Is Conversation Necessary?

                      “The Women,” 1939

You move to a small town in Texas, the Midwest, or Upstate New York.  It hardly matters.

Population:  700 or 7,000

Bookstores:  None

Libraries:  do not have the classics and out-of-print books you need.

Technology:  Superior!

And so you are on the computer, phone, or tablet 24/7.  When you wake up in the middle of the night, you check your email. It doesn’t seem normal, but who is your best friend? The kind people who help you scan your passport at O’Hare, or your computer?  It should be the people, but it is the computer.  (I am leaving family off this list, because they are family!)

And that’s why I was interested in Jessica Love’s review in The American Scholar of Sherry Turkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

anne taintor shopping 27aca604e0d45210680200ba25ea2d11I am banned from reading book reviews until March 2016.  I am on an (Almost) Zero-Spending program because I spent £95 at the London Review Bookshop,  £30 at the Persephone Bookshop, and,  thank God,  less at the used bookstores!  Is it possible to buy books without checking the prices?  I am, however,  allowed to read book blogs, because the pace is less urgent.   Bloggers are so eclectic–some read only out-of-print books–that I am happy just to put the books on the list and think about them.

I actually wasn’t aware that Jessica Love’s article, “We Need to Chat: How technology,” was a review until I clicked on it.

We need this kind of review/article to interpret society nowadays. Love says that Sherry Turkle, the author of Reclaiming Conversation, reports that Facebook, email,  texts, etc., are destroying our ability to focus on a subject and have meaningful conversations. In 2012, a study at Essex University found that  students who were paired off to converse with each other for 10 minutes were so distracted by a phone on a nearby desk that they lacked empathy for and were less trusting of each.

Jessica Love writes:

It was the intimacy of conversations that really took a hit, the researchers found. When discussions were casual, the cell phone on the desk made little difference. But when conversations touched on more meaningful topics, the device—though it remained still, silent, off to the side, and unanswered—discouraged conversation partners from warming to one another.

I often joke that I haven’t had a conversation in 15 years. I chat with my relatives and a few friends, but we seldom talk about anything deep.  Is it necessary to be profound?   I used to tell everyone what was on my mind.  Why am I less serious?  Is this a less serious age?  Do we have to be Stephen Colbert?  (Do you think Stephen Colbert is funny?)

I miss seriousness.

I can’t say I am a researcher on the internet, but I have noticed a few things.

1 The Occupy Wall Street Movement n 2011 was adorable.  “We are the 99%.”  Possibly untrue, but I liked the sound of it.  However, I could not help but notice that the protestors couldn’t focus.   What were they protesting?  They couldn’t say.  Bankers?  Debt?  The website adds, “The sanctity of individual privacy,”  and “Making technologies, knowledge, and culture open to all to freely access, create, modify, and distribute.”  Isn’t privacy on the internet an oxymoron?  Has the internet interrupted their train of thought?  Is my skepticism a hearkening back to the ’60s and ’70s, when we were able to organize groups around promoting specific goals, such as  legalized abortion, equal pay for equal rights, the end of the Vietnam War, etc.?  Could we do that because we conversed face-to-face instead of online?

2.  As a blogger, I have noticed  a movement of what I call “parallel  blogging.” Instead of discussing a single book, as  one does in book clubs, many talented blogger/readers volunteer to read one or two books from, say, a list of 25  posted by a lovely blogger.   I am happy to participate in a year-long reading of The Forsyte Saga, but I have never been able to comprehend the point of a 24-hour-readathon.  Bloggers register for the readathon and read and tweet and post and provide links to other participants’  blogs until I am dizzy.  The new way of parallel participation isn’t bad, it is simply different. I am a part of this culture but I am also apart from it.

Do we need more conversation?  Or is Sherry Turkle wrong?

18 thoughts on “Is Conversation Necessary?

  1. Great post. I’m so over blogalongathon culture, and even now that I’m retired am not going to start a new book blog myself (I originally planned to call it Retired Reader, since the job I’d retired from was book story analyst at a movie studio). But nope. Who needs another book blog? The world and the blogosphere decidedly do not. That said, I still follow half a dozen book blogs that I consistently enjoy because I like a) those bloggers’ taste in books, and b) their personalities. Some of these bloggers I know in real life, e.g. Stuck-in-a-Book, Dove Grey Reader. Others I have never met, but feel that I know them, and have usually corresponded to some extent with them – you, Leaves & Pages, a few others. My feeling after these years of book blogs is, follow the keepers; when you start to feel overwhelmed, stop. Not only is it any kind of duty to follow them all, that would be quite impossible; and one has to balance one’s own enjoyment vs. waste of time!

    • Oh, I wish you would start another blog! You’re such a wonderful writer and I have thoroughly enjoyed your humor and critiques in various groups over the years. But how long can we keep blogs going? Many on my blogroll are moribund. Tom at A Common Reader went on to do other things in his retirement. Blogging is like journalism: I quite liked feature-writing for a long time, but then I started writing the same things again and again and again. And that’s why journalists become editors! That’s why blogging can’t be taken too seriously. There is no pressure, and that’s why people enjoy it.
      Yes, blogalong/readalongs are not for me!
      It is great that you’ve met so many bloggers. Conversation can be electronic or live. I don’t know whether to panic or ignore the criticism of people like Turkel. The culture is very different now; some things better, some things worse. I missed my computer in London and found myself tapping stuff out on a tablet. Very silly. We’re all so used to our e-things!

      • Kat, thank you for your kind words! I do love blogging, and now that I’m retired anything is possible – literally! I’ve even rented “a room of one’s own”/”a room with a view” to write in. So I’ll see what’s ahead…though I want to finish a list of unfinished book projects too! One thing I’ll never do, though, is the group readalongs, gimmick themes and so on. Not my cuppa.

        • Oh, how nice! Lovely to have your own room to write. It’s good to get away from the distractions. I can’t wait to hear about your new books, and hope you start a blog, too.

          • In my plans for Retired Reader, I had thought not of new books, but of consuming my To Be Read pile, which numbers in the thousands! Who knows. Retirement has only seemed to settle me in a state of befuddlement from too many choices!

  2. Conversation is necessary, definitely, and if we can’t get it where we live then blogging and online groups are a good solution. It’s getting the balance right that matters. As for these 24 hour readathons – maybe in my younger days, when I had more time and energy. However, I’d fall asleep halfway through I think nowadays…..

  3. Well, if it was not myself I am talking about (awful English but I am thinking in French this morning and guess you will understand anyway), I would say that great minds… The blog entry I posted yesternight (Sunday) touches in the same topic. The loneliness of the blogger and the lack of converstation. Plus readalongs, readathons, and gimmick themes, as Diana says.
    I agree with you both but hope that both of you will go on blogging as you belong to my very few loved bloggers.

  4. Wonderful, witty blog! I must read the book review. I teach literature and it is now recognized that students can only listen to a lecture (that means concentrate) for ten minutes. This weekend there was an article in the health section of the NYTimes outlining the symptoms of cellphone addiction — students and young people become aggressive when you interrupt their online activity. Now that is a growing problem. As for conversation and blogging, we shouldn’t forget that good conversationalists were defined as also listening to what others said. This seems to be part of the problem. We live in a culture of confirmed solipsists.
    Elaine

    • Oh, I’m sure teaching and cell phones are a problem. It would be nice to march over and take their phones away for the duration of class, but I suppose you can’t do that with adult students! I do find it strange to see people walking down the streets looking at their cell phones. How do they see where they’re going? It is hard to combat these addictions because they seem to have taken over.

  5. Thank u! perfect. i swear i am not old fashioned 🙂 but i do have a desire/need to have a heartfelt conversation…serious doesn’t have to be ‘serious’, but at least in depth, all tangents followed and opened and ea person heard/listened to /acknowledged ….
    i have friends on both coasts who can have such conversations, though in my new home in az…none….i listened to chit chat at work etc..that’s fine…but w/ friends love to feel that we both can discuss what is on our minds or in our hearts when it’s appropriate. (i don’t like phone conversations much…but can be on phone for 5 hrs at a time w/ a friend who knows how to have a conversation)
    love the blogs where personal heartfelt details abound occassionally, esp re reading habits and life questions….and how many bloggers have said they started their blogs cause their friends just aren’t interested in their interests (but really prob just can’t listen whole heartedly perhaps)…
    well….u hit a nerve for me obviously….thank you very much….
    wish u all the best
    quinn

    • Yes, all chat is good! I also like chit chat. People do like to keep it light, and it is true that place, the internet, and all kinds of things shape how we talk. Bloggers do write for other people than their friends and family, I think. Glad you enjoyed the post and hope you have some good conversations soon!

  6. I’m another one looking for balance. I have found it interesting watching my own reactions to having to have academic conversations online for the Dickens course I’m doing. I have found it quite difficult for the first two weeks because I am so used to face to face discussions and being able to very swiftly take up a point and develop it. I’m not a trained typist and so my reaction is slower than I would like and there is no immediate response. Today has been the first day that I’ve felt I was getting somewhere with the whole process but I would still do a real live course every time if there was one available.

    • It IS difficult to type fast enough. In the ’90s online book groups on Compuserve and AOL book grpups had book “boards” where we posted (I never hear about boards anymore) but also scheduled “chats” in chatrooms twice a month, once for general discussion and another time to discuss the book of the month. It was fun, but i must say there were a lot of typos!

  7. Device addiction is proving to be more insidious than substance addiction. I perceive the tendencies in myself, goodness knows, though it’s even more rampant in the world around. Will we end up having to legislate it as well? I can’t see that happening, but maybe it will come to pass. People used to give opium to their babies and smoke in hospitals. (Don’t flame me, technology users. It’s a question of appropriate uses and limitations.)

    • Now there’s an idea! Legislation. Yes, it is important to manage time on the internet. So many people talk about it. Odd, isn’t it, that you can be a non-addictive personality, skip the drink and drugs, and then end up an internet addict? It is the common problem of our time.

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