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?