What Say You?

Conversation

Lately there has been a good deal said about words, language, contexts and such. Words have been invented, blamed, redeemed, salvaged, resurrected, and crucified at whim.

All, mind you, by the use of words.

I was recently going through some of my posts and a few by fellow-bloggers. I noticed a certain commenting pattern. There is hardly ever a conversation in the comments (yes, I know some blogs do have that characteristics, a very few, however). Visitors hardly ever reply to the comments made by the owner. I notice the choice of words – it is almost as if a signal to end a conversation. I have a theory that on an average, an average comment (or its reply) is no more than 25 words. Noticing this, I began a conversation and replied to the reply on a comment that I made. it just became unsustainable.

It is a dying art, they say. I nearly agree. Conversation, in any form

I have often talked of being in coffee shops and pubs – for a great conversation. Something about a drink, it seems to me, stimulates thoughts and possibly the right words and encourages the flow. It has been often difficult for me to leave such a conversation.

There is one argument that technology (I’ll use the more appropriate ‘gadget’) has caused the death of the art of conversation. It is a very easy argument, argues that SMS-speak and chats have caused people to talk the monosyllabic language. (See the sixth comment in the BBC article linked above) It’s not so much the gadgets themselves, but our choice of how we use the gadgets and how we respond to their use. You have probably used the almost omnipotent “hmm” a million times. How could a gadget ever decide, dictate, or direct the use of “hmm” in an instant messenger chat? It is our inability (or unwillingness) to provide a more meaningful and a thoughtful response. We are a busy generation, perhaps? Don’t have the time to write or say what we really feel and think and leave most of it open to interpretation? Like I said before, there is technology, and then there is isolating technology. But I might add now, that there is also how we use it – how we choose to use it.

It is the convenience of the gadget that has caused the death, not so much the gadget itself. The ability to instantly provide further clarity to what we said makes us lazy enough not to compose our thought completely in the first place.

I recently read this sentence. And it struck me, as much as wordy our generation may find it, as conveying so beautifully the exact feeling, the writer felt. I have since, asked for forgiveness for all the expletives I have showered on words. This is a single sentence in a letter from Adam Smith to David Hume.

You have, in a declining state of health, under an exhausting disease, for more than two years together now looked at the approach of death with a steady cheerfulness such as very few men have been able to maintain for a few hours, though otherwise in the most perfect health.

When electronic communication and phones didn’t exist, the sheer logistics of communication required a comprehensive presentation of thought. There was a need to compose it well. Make it complete. Imagine your recent chat conversation happening through paper & ink letters and through post (snail mail, we call it). Each message on the chat as a new letter, each smiley, each hmm.

I recently used the word ‘hate’ in a chat very casually, when my friend asked, isn’t that a strong word? I agreed and retracted the word; I meant to say, ‘I don’t particularly believe that the actress has any acting skills; I don’t like her as an actress’. When I think back, I wouldn’t have used the word ‘hate’ if, for example, I was writing a letter. It was just too casual – I assumed that my friend would understand what I meant; perhaps in the context of the conversation. Bad assumption! It is also not the case that we don’t have the right words. And even if we don’t know the right word, we have access to online dictionaries and thesauri.

This thought has been particularly difficult for me to present. I rely far too much on gadgets, even like them. At the same time I miss the romance of participating in a good conversation; receiving a good letter.

Isn’t this thought regressive in a way; it seems to keep us tied to an apparently romantic past; defies evolution?

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15 thoughts on “What Say You?

  1. I now understand the point you were making then.I disagreed then on some thing totally different, but I would disagree even now.

    Just to make my point:May be everyone should start drinking Red bull instead of relying on a good cuppa as Red Bull is the latest way to get your buzz.Is yearning for a good cup of tea regressive?It was some thing you did 15 years ago and nothing gets you going like a good cup of morning tea.

    So you tried a gazzilion things as progress touched your life, but some things give you a high like no other.Holding onto that isn’t regression methinks, it is preserving a bit of you.

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  2. Did I tell you that I enjoy reading you? For just raising these kind of concerns and addressing these issues…

    So, much as I’d like to write back a long epistle, shall confine myself (for the present) to saying that I do look forward to more conversations here.

    Wish to employ some cutesy emoticons to convey some welcome happiness, but desisting!

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  3. Thought provoking post. I agree that it is the
    user however not the medium which begs a bit of
    discipline to settle into a conversation.

    I find with blogging that my best conversations come
    with e-mails from commenters – the e-mails
    are very long – often begun in draft form and
    added to for several days – they are rich and
    lasting and rewarding.

    And a coffee shop is a terrific place to have
    a conversation over a tea and cake –
    I could chat all day!

    What I find missing from blogging is the “tone”
    which lends different meanings to even one word.
    A “hmmm” a “sigh” a “chuckle” a “groan”
    change the meaning immediately that often
    reading misses – so I have to say
    “long live emoticons”

    Have a lovely Sunday !!!! 🙂

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  4. I’ll chat with you Gaizabonts…over a coffee, on a train or in the pub

    I can see why you were intrigued that the post I haven’t posted yet wants to explore how lonely the shrinking world and social web can actually be. The loss of direct human contact leaves dialogue and communication as a 2D (maybe even 1D) medium, with a contrived attempt to add depth and that human touch through the use of emoticons that Sophie mentions.

    But then there could be an arguement that whilst txt spk is reducing the ability to deliver language as a sublte and delicate form of communication, rendering everything so functional, do you not think that blogs and the electronic canvass allowed to us in Web2.0 allows people to indulge and engage in written prose more deeply than even the days of blotchy ink and handwritten scrawl? Or does the fact that comment and space are so voluminous do we take less time to compose and commit our thoughts?

    There are even virtual environments of your favourite places for conversation; http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=virtual+pub&meta=

    R,

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  5. i’ve read somewhere – “when u have to say something, don’t say it and tarnish the feeling…”

    that however, is for the bygone era, when people enjoyed conversations about nothing in particular. to really enjoy conversing, i believe we must learn to enjoy the brief moments of silence that exist between 2 people. those moments, when there really is no need to ‘say’ things…

    like u rightly mentioned though, conversation seems like a dying art today. i think it has a lot to do with the changing value systems in our society. we have started valuing everything in very materialistic terms. the moment we stop looking beyond ‘profits & losses’, conversation is dead & buried.

    there used to be a time when one of my favourite pastimes (still is!) used to be to write letters. in fact during the first semester at college, i received (much to the envy of my hostel mates!) some 200 odd letters, each of which were a part of a string of conversational posts. that of course, was when emails were still not in, atleast among my contacts & me. very soon though, as i moved into my second & subsequent semesters, i could see a noticeable drop in those letters. letters become emails, emails shortened in length (“just dropped by to say hi…”) , emails become SMSs…

    these days, i have myself stopped writing letters as, sadly, nobody ever bothers to reply. and if i had to converse with myself, i’d rather do it in the silence. just drop in an occasional snail mail to my parents.

    very glad to notice someone has picked up the train of thought. enjoyed the post, and wil keep coming back here.

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  6. Hmmm……

    As always another post that gets you thinking. Well surely I’m not going to end at that. There is a biological concept called vestigial, wherein the organs lose much or all of their original function and remain defunct. One wonders whether all this lack of conversation, texting or SMSing, lack of physical activity as much as our ancestors will begin to make more vestigial than we are today.

    Having said that I think our telepathic ‘organs’ have also become defunct. Maybe long conversations and exquisite writing of our ancestors rendered them useless…

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  7. From my perspective,blogging serves to add ones voice to a larger conversation around topics of interest to him/her.I also participate on some topic-specific forums, and conferences and many other environments where conversations can happen. Maybe blogs are better at capturing the flow of an idea, rather than a thread of conversation.As people post their ideas, I get to know them and grow attracted (or not) to them based on what and how they write.This is similar to how it works in face-to-face meetings and introductions, but blogs develop over time and give me different insights into people than I get in that first few seconds of an introduction.

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  8. ==E&U:
    Interesting analogy, to say the least; at least I won’t be the one to switch from my cuppa. And I am glad to say that there are many who won’t switch (at least in the near future). I think, it is not so much as holding on to as much as the value which it inherently holds – a good conversation. For one, it gives you a better understanding of the person in front of you, more importantly; it gives a better understanding of your self and opens up your mind.

    In that sense, holding on isn’t regressive, but the gadgetry culture is. There is obviously an argument in favour of the newer means of communication; I haven’t formed it just as yet.

    ==Shankari:
    Thank you. You did, in this comment. 🙂

    Well, I just went ahead and used a smiley, because there was a smile on my face and that is just about the best way I could convey it here. I also thought you punching the keyboard with one hand for a very long time.

    And yes, I have been glad about the comments here – elated actually. It has become a conversation. I will await the epistle, it might just challenge me to reply likewise.

    ==Sophie
    Ah! The emails yes, especially the long ones. I do miss them. It is funny however, that I have sometimes replied with a short phrase to a very long mail – a victim of the assumption that the chain will continue.

    If this be the medium, then the medium has to be used to its full effect, so the smileys aren’t going anywhere and they make perfect sense if we choose to use the medium.

    PS: the rain pretty much wrecked the Sunday plan, so I had to improvise 🙂

    ==Robie
    I guess you got the point even though you have posed it as a question. It is probably the abundance of the means of communication that causes the lack of it or its deterioration. My rant is more towards how casually we treat the new medium rather than the medium it self. I will come to Web 2.0 in just a bit. Moving away from the ink and paper has probably given us more control and provided more means to add finesse to our conversation. I suspect that because these means are available, we always assume that we can always change what we have said, and don’t end up using the medium well. It is probably also the problem of the plenty – in a way. It may so happen that we focus so much on the tools of the trade that we forget to focus on the message.

    If conversation has to ever come anywhere close to where I wish, I guess I will wait for Web 6.0 or something equivalent. Almost a Total Recall kind of a medium. Again, the only thing that v6.0 will allow is invalidation of geography and a richer presentation and the ability express closer to what is real. The art is something that we have to possess and wield.

    I love our chats on the train, coffee shops or the pub too Robie, in fact I look forward to them. As regards the virtual environment you proposed, I guess they will make sense after Summer 2007.

    ==Dharmabum
    The moment of silence that you speak of, almost becomes a moment of tension in the online medium (did you get disconnected? did the messenger crash? did you walk away from the computer?). There is, I insist, a level of convenience that new medium has brought in, we are using it as it is. We haven’t improvised on how we could, possibly, use the medium better.

    I miss writing letters too. And I am amused, how you have explained the progression from flowing letters to SMS/Text messages. I have felt the same – and I am glad you said it so well.

    Welcome to Gaizabonts, I look forward to hearing from you more and more often.

    ==Jolvin:
    Couldn’t resist it, could you, the way you started your comment?

    In the manner that you have said, I guess our fingers will evolve more than anything else, at least the index fingers that click the mouse and the first phalanges that tap the keyboard.

    The second part of your comment has got me thinking. Are we on the brink of another revolution of evolution?

    ==Praveena:
    Blogging is closer to elocution than a debate or a conversation. The characteristic of a conversation that allows you to go to unknown places is missing in the blog.

    Interestingly, it seems that a face-to-face conversation is a sign of impatience (getting to know a person quickly) than a blog (where it happens over a period of time). You got me thinking too!

    ==All: Thank you for a wonderful conversation, I will admit, this was more engaging than writing a post. Obvious, in’t it?

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  9. using the new media better & improvising is an interesting thought. although i’ve no thoughts off the cuff, it would be nice idea to throw it open here, since you seem to have quite a few readers. and serious ones at that…
    what say you? oh, and what does it mean – ‘gaizabonts’? googled it, but it only threw up a dozen blogs.

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  10. Atul,I have to say that this has been a wonderfully enlightening…ahem! conversation! I put my “what I’ve learned” thoughts up on my blog as a contribution to the larger conversation.
    There’s a big difference between “talking at” and “conversing with.” In blog comments, you’ll find an awful lot of mutual “talking at.”..For example, this happens in a lot of face-to-face group meetings,too. IMHO, I think that has more to do with the personality and writing style of the people involved, rather than the inherent nature of blogs.
    Were you ever talking to someone who said something that interested you, but they weren’t really listening to you in return, and they got distracted and turned away without replying or even acknowledging that you spoke? Yeah, it happens — and it’s easier to get away with online than face-to-face.
    And i feel blogs a controlled conversation by the author.

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  11. the whole world is suffering from the “tryanny of urgency”…and so many means of communication…emails, sms, phone calls, blogs…so many replies to so many people in a day…where is the time for meaningful conversation….lame excuse??

    maybe our attention span has become very limited….look at the videos on any music channel…the whole video is composed of shots which dont even last a second…same with our communications…juss half lines and its over…

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  12. ==Dharmabum:
    Well, I guess it is down to all of us to bring back the ‘richness’ of the experience – so those thoughts need to continue coming. However, like I said before a conversation doesn’t often continue for long if there aren’t any personal attacks or if the topic isn’t about politics. Yes, I love my friends – you will know if you visit their blogs. And this comment space is always open!

    Gaizabonts is a word I coined.

    ps: all the blogs are mine 😉

    ==DD:
    Thank you.

    That is a very interesting thought DD, at ‘talking at’ and ‘conversing with’. I’ll differ however on the meatspace vs. cyberspace argument. People who don’t (or can’t) converse – wont do it anywhere. But the people, who would have otherwise been great company in a coffee shop do succumb to it too.

    Remember the “cool” comment?

    ==Jolvin
    IMHO it should have been Aabviously. Get your spellings right!

    ==Sherriff
    I am kind of taking a liking to the phrase – tyranny of urgency.

    So technology itself or misuse?

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  13. ==Sherriff:
    Feeding on each other – is an interesting way to look at it – reminds me of what Councillor Hamann said to Neo at the engineering level in the Matrix Reloaded. You just extended what he said, methinks

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