I was thinking the other day about how little time I spend actually talking to people. I mean, really talking to people in a non-transactional sense. Even in my own family, we spend very little time in discussion that isn't logistically-oriented. The time spent actually breaking down a topic and analyzing, taking it from broad strokes to little micro-details is maybe an hour or two a week. This is in contrast to when I was younger and I used to spend hours talking to people. I would talk with my friends and family for hours at a stretch, on the phone, in the car, over meals. We talked and talked and talked until we were blue in the face. So what is the difference?
Well, for one, we have texting. Instead of calling people when I have a question, I can text them. So now I don't have an excuse to make small talk, and I don't have to fill in the gaps of conversation with little bits of hi how are you and what do you think about the situation in the middle east?. My closest friend and I almost never talk unless we are actually in the same room, which happens maybe monthly. Can you imagine talking to your closest friend only once a month? Texting is fun, and I have time for jokes and silliness, but having a deep conversation via thumb is really awkward.
For another, now I have children, and much of my life is spent worrying about the next step. Where are we going, what are we doing, how are we going to coordinate everyone's life such that every person in the household has their needs met with the least amount of conflict possible. This requires an enormous amount of diplomatic logistical discussion, and I will admit that after having this conversations, I am often spent. So spent, I don't want to delve into the deeper conversations I used to have. Also, now I have other shit to do, so once we've worked out the details of the day, it's the 1-2-3- BREAK! and we all go running to actually do the things we just planned. I think both sweets and I yearn for a few minutes of time alone, so having a person following me around begging to have deep conversations about the meaning of life isn't really what either of us wants or needs.
Also, we just don't spend that much time worrying about the same stuff that we did when we were younger. I just don't care what people think about the rise and fall of electronic music like I used to, so I don't need to gather in places where people have those conversations. And to be honest, the places where those people are having those conversations are mostly online. Which leads to my next point- much of this narrative that used to come out of my mouth is now coming out of my fingers. When I want to tap into the discourse about electronic music, I go to twitter, see what people are tweeting about electronic music, follow the links and read what the bloggers and commenters are saying, maybe tweet something myself, and then I'm spent. Very little has actually been said. The language has spun around in my head, but no words have been uttered. Unless I go to a TED talk, and see what some very practiced, stylized "expert" has to say on the matter, but that is its own sidebar.
I do a lot of qualitative research- for the uninitiated, qualitative research is the type in which people are interviewed, and those interviews are analyzed, the opposite of survey fill-in-the-bubble research. I look at what people say, how they say it, what is the context in which they say what they've said, and what they haven't said, and I try to pull out the themes. In the literature about this type of research there is a lot of talk about how people build their own narratives through storytelling- that there is power in the act of asking someone personal questions and then listening to what they have to say. By creating your narrative, you're forming memories. So when a person retells a story about an experience, the way they tell it shapes how they remember it, shapes how they will experience that memory in the future. So it goes to say that human beings NEED to tell their stories, that we need to gather and talk and retell and share and exchange ideas. We need to reflect back the positive to each other, because we are all memory makers, helping form each other's narrative.
In the digital world, we are forming our narratives in tiny, literate bits. Some of us are better at it than others. I have a head-start because I jumped into online forums early, and have a world of friends who I only know (really) through the internet. My friends and I talk, share, communicate only through the written word. Some of us have tried to gather in real time, but one of the reasons we are able to be such good friends (I think) is because we can do it asynchronously. I love these friends dearly, as one does for close, intimate friends with whom one shares one's most private life.
But I wonder sometimes how my, how our lives are changing as we transition into a world without conversation.