Yesterday, this was the last tweet I saw for the day.
For a person who loves conversations, it was a bit disturbing (most disturbing things become disturbing when they are put on paper – or pixels). But it caused me to wonder why Mahendra Palsule would say that. And if you are one of his many followers (Blog or Twitter), you know, you cannot take his posts lightly. So I continued to ponder over it the rest of the evening. Mahendra’s tweet was of course about Indian folks and about conversations on Twitter, but I believe this issue affects offline conversations and across the world.
What ails good conversations? A few thoughts.
We have no resources to take a conversation further. We have a fact, a point, that we like to make, but that is about it. No wonder Dr. Eric Berne wrote a book titled “What Do You Say After You Say Hello?” We see something interesting — and given the nature of Twitter — we just want to share it, often with the underlying connotation of saying — ‘you saw it here, first’ — a breaking news phenomenon. When someone starts a conversation about it — we have no more thoughts about it to take the idea further.
In online conversations — there is a higher chance of misunderstanding — and therefore taking things personally. Compound this further by the limit of a 140 characters, and you have a higher chance of misunderstandings. Mix in people from different cultures and contexts, and you are looking at an additional difficulty of engaging in a neutral conversation. It would be too sweeping to say that Indians lack global context, but some of us do — and that perceiving a conversation in a limited context is the villain of opening up a conversation.
Having a lot of facts is yet another problem. There is too much information out there – and it is fed to us in multiple ways – the browser, the mobile, and the email. Responding to a conversation with facts is a sure way of not allowing a conversation to happen. It is the equivalent of not listening. Conversation is akin to knowledge wrapped in thoughts; an exchange of ideas and opinions. Interpreting them requires patience and what is now called active listening. Conversations are composed of facts, ideas, opinions, thoughts and even questions. They need to be looked at, as such and responded accordingly.
Then again, I wonder if it is about the way we are educated that determines if we can engage in a good conversation. Education, though it is changing (slowly) has been limited to just knowing things — rather than exploring the nature of those things. There is an obvious lack of philosophical discipline in the information dump that happens in institutions of learning; a visible lack of critical thinking skills.
Finally, I believe the characteristics of Twitter could be seen as restrictive to engage in a conversation. If you look at the many posts about how to make Twitter work, it becomes evident that the service does mean different things to different people. How do the people who do not engage on Twitter fare in an IM? Are they better off? I suspect, they are. I personally choose a blog post — a larger canvas — to engage. It still remains my favourite means of conversation.
But whatever our affliction to have a conversation, I think we have to find out ways and means to have a conversation. Whether in a coffee-shop, or on an IM or on Twitter or on your blog. I believe conversations are one way to become better at whatever you do — because they open up a much larger world to you — which becomes a resource in itself.