Let’s talk!

The Blurp: “We live in a technological world in which we are always communicating and yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. We turn away from each other and toward our phones. We are forever elsewhere. But to empathise, to grow, to love and be loved, to take the measure of ourselves or of another, to fully understand and engage with the world around us, we must be in conversation. It is the most human – and humanising – thing that we do.”

And with this, I was immediately drawn to the book and I put it into my books-to-buy basket without a second thought. Why does this book resonate with me? Well, the stark reality that confronts society today is indeed what the author of this book claims to be: the astonishing rate in which human communication has declined over the years, coinciding with the advent of smart phones that purportedly do all the communicating for us. But do they? From my own observations (of dealing with children and parents, and their family problems and conflicts and divorce cases), and from my own adult children’s experiences in their workplaces – their managers, their colleagues, their friends – and from my own experience with my work-intensive husband (his challenges in managing his work/personal/family time), I am 100% convinced that we are currently right smack in the eye of the storm – the storm of information, entertainment and distraction overload, leading to the breakdown in our relationships, our identity, our self-worth. Here are the arguments the author has presented for us in the first chapter of the book:

On the need for conversation:
“Many of the things we all struggle with in love and work can be helped by conversation. Without conversation, studies show that we are less emphatic, less connected, less creative and fulfilled.”

“We forget how unusual this has become, that many young people are growing up without ever having experienced unbroken conversations either at the dinner table or when they take a walk with parents or friends. For them, phones have always come along.”

I had an 8-year-old child whom I had volunteered to help unschool, due to her parents’ marital breakup, who had initially been very responsive and communicative in our daily conversations. Until she was given a smartphone by one of her parents. In a swipe of a finger, all conversations came to a halt. So did physical play with other kids. It was devastating to say the least.

On the need for conversation with the new generation:
“It is for us to pass on the most precious thing we know how to do: talking to the next generation about our experiences, our history, sharing what we think we did right and wrong.”

“It is not enough to ask your children to put away their phones. You have to model this behaviour and put away your phone. If children don’t learn how to listen, to stand up for themselves and negotiate with others in classrooms or at family dinner, when will they learn the give-and-take that is necessary for good relationships or, for that matter, for the debate of citizens in a democracy?

On reclaiming conversation:
“Reclaiming conversation begins with the acknowledgement that speaking and listening with attention are skills. They can be taught. They take practice and that practice can start now. In your home, in a classroom, at your job.”

On technology:
“……….technology gives us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship…..it can also give us the illusion of progress without the demands of action.”

On talking to machines:
“Have we forgotten what conversation is? What friendship is? Is talking to machines companionship or abandonment?”

On intelligence:
“Intelligence once meant more than what artificial intelligence does. It used to include sensibility, sensitivity, awareness, discernment, reason, acumen, and wit. And yet we readily call machines intelligent now.”

“Affective is another word that once meant a lot more than what any machines can deliver. Yet we have become used to describing machines that portray emotional states or can sense our emotional states as exemplars of ‘affective computing.’”

Before the advent of smartphones, it was the tv that took the beating. Suddenly, what was normal (spending time outdoors with friends and doing things together) became the abnormal. And what took its place was staying indoors and staring at the idiot box for hours on end. Today, the idiot box is replaced by the smartphone. Its impact on human relationships is still being uncovered.

“…..Steve Jobs did not encourage his own children’s use of iPads or iPhones. His biographer reports that in Job’s family, the focus was on conversation: “Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or a computer.”

On using Apps for sociability:
“Apps for sociability May increase sociability on apps; what children are missing, however, is an ease with each other, face-to-face, the context in which empathy is born.”

But then, we can always create an app for empathy, can’t we? The author poses this question for the readers: “But does a decrease in teenage empathy suggest the need for an empathy app? Or does it suggest that we make more time to talk to teenagers?”

“Sometimes it seems easier to invent a new technology than to start a conversation.”

“We are at a crossroads: So many people say they have no time to talk, really talk, but all the time in the world, day and night, to connect…..The next step is to take the same moment and respond by searching within ourselves. To do this, we have to cultivate the self as a resource. Beginning with the capacity for solitude.”

On why he doesn’t want to get a phone for his children,
Louis C.K. has this to say:

“You need to build the ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there. That’s just being a person…Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty, forever empty…….Life is tremendously sad. That’s why we text and drive. Pretty much 100 percent of people driving are texting. And they’re killing and murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking their life and ruining another because they don’t want to be alone for a second……

So that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.”

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