Our world is filled with discourse- everyone is sharing their personal message, screaming out their thoughts and feelings over social media (with a fervour that is slightly unsettling) , and communicating in every single environment imaginable (I have seen couples who were both on their phones during a date, so if that isn’t proof enough of this problem then I’m a chicken). You would think that with all of this, people would be having more interesting conversations, right? Wrong.
Not to blame it all on technology, but because of technology (sorry-not-sorry!) people seem to be constantly ignoring each other. Texting someone, or appearing to, is a way for people who feel awkward in social situations to comfortably avoid having to talk to engage with their immediate surroundings (or, it would appear, themselves). Taking selfies seems to be all about reminding the world you’re alive, even if you’re in bed and look like a dragon just spat you up (sorry guys, I’m sure you thought you looked fab). And as for Tinder, it saddens me to relay that a man who was openly creeping on me in a bar once took out his phone and tried to see if I was on Tinder instead of coming up to talk to me (I actually benefited from technology on this count, since I am not on Tinder and his own awkwardness got in the way of what would have been a very unlikely scenario).
As a conversation snob (I’d rather say it outright than be accused of it), I find all of this to be deeply worrying. I have had countless interesting real life conversations with people that I would not have spoken to, had I been on my phone or generally disconnected from the reality that the world is indeed turning, and every passing moment we are nearing the end of, not our social media existence, but our very real, physical existence.
And as a person who is accustomed to seeking out deeper, more enriching conversations with people (if I may say so myself), I have noticed that the conversations of today, the musings exchanged between strangers and colleagues and even borderline friends, have lowered in standard. They are in fact, a slight bit bony.
What do I mean by this? Accepted topics of conversation in today’s richly informed world, where any information is at our fingertips and could thus be used to form a decent, mind-opening conversation, seem to be as follows: “Have you seen Lolanimal’s rendition of “Popular ways to pet your cat” on Youtube?”, “Yeah, I did, it was so hilarious!”.
If it isn’t about Cats or Youtube (a favourite amongst many), it is about something even more dull, and one that is hardly conducive to any real reflections about people, life, and the world. Although Youtube and Cats are both mildly appealing topics and Youtube as an art form in itself has brought about many interesting ideas, it would appear that the general standard of conversation has fallen into a gradual decline. Instead of creating or forming ideas, people are talking about ideas that other people came up with, or following them thoughtlessly.
Why is this? We have too much. Every day, we are bombarded with information that plasters itself over the walls of our cities and imprints itself on our minds. We are constantly being offered solutions to every problem we’ve ever had. What this means is that people aren’t looking further than what they’re being shown- they aren’t seeking out information because they already have too much to begin with (see my article on the Information diet here).
Every day, we are bombarded with information that plasters itself over the walls of our cities and imprints itself on our minds. We are constantly being offered solutions to every problem we’ve ever had. What this means is that people aren’t looking further than what they’re being shown- they aren’t seeking out information because they already have too much to begin with.
And what makes for interesting conversations, for deep, soul searching chats that lift you up and transport you to another world of thought, is reflection. It’s the will to look beyond what there is, but also the curiosity to go and find things out yourself. And because as mere people-of-the-internet we already have it all, we don’t look for anything any more.
Whatsapp and its fragmented ‘hey, how R U’ conversations, Facebook chat’s emoticons, and a general assortment of internet language that is increasingly pervasive in day-to-day English mean that meeting people on trains, planes, or in restaurants has become an odd practice. Having a conversation with a stranger about life, or literature, or feminism, has become unheard of, and the rare few that still manage to leave a trail of ‘talk to me I want a good conversation’ vibes (myself included) are made to feel like The Other for wanting to elaborate on anything. Not saying anything, apparently, seems to be more of a conversation filler than actually discussing matters at length. This is the world we live in.
However, things could be different. The next time you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a bar on your own, you could make a pact with yourself not to whip out your phone or your earphones. Next time you’re thinking of asking your phone how to get to that restaurant, you could instead ask someone and see what they say! And instead of using apps and social networks to ‘meet people’, you could try actually heading out into the world and doing the meeting yourself.
It appears that in this marvellous, technologically advanced world, people don’t quite have the courage to say things out loud, let alone share their opinions (their real opinions) with an interlocutor without first gauging the reaction of the general surrounding public and evaluating the damage that could do to their social media profile. However, everyone has it in them to bring something valuable and insightful to a conversation, so instead of turning your back on these moments, look up from your phone, Ipad, or Kindle, and say what you really think!