Thursday, May 3, 2012

The dying art of conversation... huh?

This is what many are 'talking about' - the death of conversation.  In a world that is increasingly turning to texting, tweeting and chatting online.  Well connected, but in silence. Who would have thought it possible?  People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening. 


At home, time and again, we have stopped the elder one in her conversation, to tell her to get to the point, and to skip the details (sorry S!) . She is a great one for that.  Thankfully it has not stopped her, ever.  But now, if we are to go by the words of the  renowned psychologist and professor at MIT - Sherry Turkle - it is important to listen to each other, even if it is in the most boring bits  because it is often in unedited moments, that we reveal ourselves to one another.

Professor Turkle says students have mastered the art of eye contact while they are busy texting! Nothing new.  How many times have our children ( I am without doubt speaking for all parents) nodded their heads at appropriate moments, blinked, changed facial expressions to give you the impression that they are hanging on to every word  said, while their fingers dexterously typed out long messages.  To think that we spent hours trying to get them to hold a pencil and learn to write!  This particular fine skill of texting came naturally to them!

Turkle has also coined a new term - the Goldilocks effectnot too close, not too far, just right , keeping in touch with so many people yet to keep them at bay - at a distance they can control - .  For most youngsters, human relationships are messy,and they move from conversation to connection.  And over a period of time stop caring.  They forget the art of conversation, and skills associated with it.  Of being patient and empathising. Always in the company of 'friends' - if we cannot be alone even for a while it will only make us more lonely.  And that is a scary thought.

I guess it is due to the numbers in India, our world has not fallen silent.  And we are a nation of noisy people.  But surprisingly, when I took a journey by train some time ago it was so different.  I remember how much fun it used to be earlier. The noise, the hawkers, the conversations, sharing of meals.  But this time, I found it strangely silent.  Only the hum of the airconditioning.  Almost all were busy with their smart devices (I think I was the only one with an 'antique' piece). Playing games, on facebook, or tweeting. And being constantly warned not to accept food from strangers, we all settled down to the boring railway catered food and ate in silence.

Another time, I was awaiting my turn at the billing section of a hospital.  A lady barged in before me.  I thought I should protest, but she looked distraught.  She was hunched over the counter and I thought she must be having a tough time and after all it only meant a delay of a few minutes.  But it took longer and curiosity finally got the better of me and I peered over to see the cause of her despair.  But lo! I found her face inches away from her phone and she was playing a game.  I guess the pained expression shifted to my face.

It is nice to think most of those of my generation still pick up a phone or drop by to have a conversation.  Not just someone who 'likes' or 'pokes'.  And thank god once again for S and her incessant banter. 


  1. I need to learn that art of txting while concentrating on other things ,, i see people here txting while driving toooo


  2. Well said Radha. We live in a weird world today. Sometimes I feel I should get away from all this madness to a remote place - where there are no TV's, computers, internet,cell phones etc. Just people with whom you can talk to uninterrupted !

  3. Talking about conversation,I am reminded about younger days as a boy several decades back and the practice in our house for all to squat on the floor in the dining room with each one having a stainless steel plate before and mother serving the food.We were a big family of many siblings.Silence was never imposed.Each one of us would relate the interesting incident of the day that always ended in laughter.My dad used to moderate the conversation so as not to degenerate to a babel of voices and encouraged the shy and diffident to speak.It created a deeper bond.Such supping together is no more in vogue.
    As you have rightly said conversation is a dying art though the persons endowed with the gift of the gab are not necessarily wiser than the taciturn.

  4. @Bikram - I can't even hold the phone to my ear with the aid of my shoulder and multi-task. And while my hands fly over computer keys, I take such a long time to text even a couple of words.
    @Ramakrishna - That would be a dream holiday. But could you leave your camera behind?
    @KP - I know, meal times in our childhood were real fun. We would also sit out in the compound under a starlit sky and play word games in the evening. Those were the days. And as for gift of the gab ... sometimes it seems the wrong people have it!

  5. Somehow, I'm also developing this hesitation to call people on the phone. There's this - can't invade someone's privacy with a phonecall but a text message is okay. And then, the other person doesn't see your text message for two hours and, there's strange thoughts 'She didn't respond, what does it mean?' when actually, it means nothing!! The beep of the sms was drowned by a passing truck or something!

  6. Hi Radha,

    Once again I'm not able to post a comment on your blog, so I'm sending my comment by e-mail.


    my comment-

    There are many advantages of the modern forms of communication. However, I don't think they can ever replace contact "in person".

    We communicate not only through words, but also through gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice.

    I completely agree with you that "if we cannot be alone even for a while it will only make us more lonely. And that is a scary thought."

  7. @Indian Bazaar - Yes, I am also guilty of that sometimes. Why disturb. Send a mail, then an sms and ultimately call. To find out that they have received all your communication and that leaves you fuming!
    @Manju - Yes, it is not just words. So much more as you say makes a conversation more meaningful.

  8. I'm in agreement with other posters- I feel as if I'm invading a person's privacy if I call them. Or rather, I'm interrupting their time on the computer, or their tv show. If I want a great conversation these days I have to get it from good books.

    I also see that this modern technology is making people simpler in their minds, topics and jokes are on a grade school level. There is no one I know that is interested in interesting topics- such as the color spectrum that many animals see, or old Japanese beliefs about shapeshifting raccoons. Bringing up such topics seems to scare people. But a simple childish rhyme, such as "gaga googoo, I do poo poo" gives them delight.

    I learned from a book by an autistic Professor that a lack of activity, while growing, does not let the brain grow properly. I wonder if that is what is going on with a lot of younger people. They seem to be in different world.

  9. i really liked your post. will go through your blog whenever i get time. it makes one feel good to read something really good and thoughtful.

  10. Have to agree with you on this.
    One of the aspects you missed out is the number of accidents while texting.
    And again I think the word texting is not there in dictionary.

  11. I agree with you.
    We all need to be involved, all the time. If some 'real' conversation/action seems more interesting, we do jump on to that. Otherwise we take the fall-back option of the phone/tablet

  12. Thought provoking post... I myself seem to prefer mails over calls (not so much a texter though), may be one of the reasons for that could be that I feel more comfortable in expressing things in that mode.

    But yes, I completely agree... nothing can beat personal conversation where smiles and laughter are not just symbolic dots and brackets but real sounds of crackles and beautiful grins. Somehow most people no longer have time for real things and joys in life today...

  13. Have to agree with every word you say. Personally I think a SMS is very rude especially when used to wish birthdays and congrats etc. If that person is important to you I am sure one can spare 2 minutes to call up and wish. Nothing like hearing your loved one's voice and feeling the emotion and love. Does anyone remember the days when only one or two homes in the neighborhood would have phones and the rest would pass on their numbers as C/O? Of course today's youngsters would find that hard to believe. (No personal number, how is that possible?!)

  14. People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening
    thoughtful post

  15. Just stopping by to say hello and express my sincere thanks for your comments and appreciations. It always feels nice to hear from someone we have looked up since long.. Thank you very much for staying connected over such a long time. Happy festival greetings to you, please update your blog very soon. :)

  16. Dear Radha,

    I stumbled on this blog when I was looking for a recipe for corn soup on the instructions of my bitter half (since I could not locate an appropriate recipe). Enjoyed it so thoroughly that I actually spent over an hour reading practically every interesting post. I belong to the in-between generation (in my 40's, transient in Delhi, a first generation IP lawyer with a family background in Government service, etc.) . There are posts on your blog that touch a chord - carona shoes, bata shoes, white liquid polish, cherry blossom etc. A big heartfelt THANK YOU



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