Are We Losing the Art of Conversation?

As I spend more time at my parents watching my Dad drift towards death, I have less energy for blogging, but plenty of time to ponder.

I recently read a blog by Sarah Perez about a study from Pew Internet and American Life Project which finds that social media is actually social. Those who surf the web and use mobile phones are more social and better connected to the world at large than those who don’t.

But what is ‘social’? I find that the connections I make and the blogs that I read through social networking are shallow in comparison to the connections and knowledge I gain and exchange in conversation. Social networks provide snippets and tidbits of information. As a society are we losing our ability and culture of conversation?

While this is anecdotal, enough friends tell me they don’t like to receive or leave voice mails since they find the phone to be a waste of time. Maybe I am too old, but I find the phone to be a great use of time, since I both speak and listen to words a lot faster than I can type/read them. Granted I can only engage is one conversation at a time, but there is a depth of conversation that I can routinely get to even on the telephone that just isn’t possible through social networks or any Internet communication.

As a researcher I appreciate that I can find and connect with people I could never have previously reached through social networks. However, I also recognize that those connections can be shallow, and that some people take advantage of what they can get from you through social connection. I had one person lead me to believe that he wanted to do business. Instead he took my proposed solution and implemented it himself. I found this out when I saw his firm listed as a user of a database I had recommended. There is even less loyalty among social connections, since many people don’t really know you, and don’t want to know you. They just want to connect with you to get to your connections. That isn’t what I call social: but, this does extend one’s network beyond one’s known business connections.

As a society we have been creeping away from conversations ever since television became common, and many of us remain glued to TV even as we eat dinner instead of conversing about our day. Now we have the Internet with its many distractions, one of which is email.  We have so many choices of ways to connect such as text messaging, and social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest . There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get several invitations to join various social networks or LinkedIn groups from people who have no idea who I am. I get so much spam through LinkedIn connections who are selling me something, asking me to endorse them or to join their LinkedIn Group. There is a lot of noise out there, and many distractions through an increasing number of social networks. I find that it’s a real balancing act to get my work done for all the noise.

But for now I’m having some deep conversations with family members. There is nothing like the impending loss of a loved one to draw out emotion and connection.

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4 Responses

  1. I so agree with Sarah Perez and you – social media is a start and at the beginning there are shallow connections. Initial contact takes place online, then a telephone call, then if possible a face-2-face meeting, then if possible doing business together. Or simply becoming friends because of what you have in common. Both scenarios have happened for me, but both took more than just a few tweets or LinkedIn messages or Facebook notes or even emails about MeetUps. To be truly social requires action from both parties – the talking and the listening; once that happend then the connection is made and possibilities are born.

  2. I think that social networking is just like any other form of networking in that it takes time to connect and build trust, which usually happens the old fashioned ways that you describe so well, Charlene. Thanks for sharing! Ellen Naylor

  3. Because of your opening sentence on your blog:

    “As I spend more time at my parents watching my Dad drift towards death, I have less energy for blogging, but plenty of time to ponder.”

    I know I was moved – and my heart goes out to you and your mother.

    Maybe the positive spin is: it might be better to compare virtual social networks versus not having these extra relationships, rather than compare social network relationships with real in-person relationships.

  4. I am just getting back to the blogosphere. I do like the spin on thinking about those I met who I wouldn’t have except through social networks, and that includes both of you!

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