Saturday, June 9, 2012
Blogs and Conversation
The Observation Deck card says: "Ask a Question." Here's one: Why do I write this blog?
One reason is to record my voice. I've wished many times that I had more samples of the voices from my past--those I've loved and lost. Another reason is that I want to capture certain ideas I find valuable and remember them for future reference. Sometimes I look up an old blog I've written to remind myself of things I've figured out before, like Gretel following the trail of breadcrumbs through the dark forest.
A third reason is that I've always enjoyed writing. Why? Words fascinate me, and putting them down in just the right way to truly express an idea gives me satisfaction and joy. Just as others might express themselves with a painting or a song or a scientific experiment or a challenging rock climb, I express myself best with words.
A related question running through my mind quite often is: Why is it so damn hard these days to find good conversation? Sherry Turkle published a NYT article a few weeks ago called "The Flight from Conversation" that bemoans our tendency to focus on short electronic communications rather than the admittedly more messy, stop-and-start of genuine, real-time connection that can actually be had by looking someone in the eyes for an extended period of time, listening carefully and patiently to what is said, and then responding in turn. We do this, God help us, even when a person is sitting right there (I do it too). A recent Atlantic article asks: "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?". Perhaps so.
In the olden days (my children), there were salons where intellectuals gathered for fascinating discussion. I fantasize about starting a monthly conversational potluck, where everybody brings a dish for dinner and a topic written on a slip of paper. Over dinner we would draw one topic at a time for discussion.
What could possibly go wrong? A political or religious topic might throw the group into heated argument--what joy! Or...nobody would know how to get started because we've all forgotten how to actually converse. People would clam up, or retreat to the bathroom to check their iPhones. But surely intelligent, verbally adept people could get beyond these obstacles. The more I think about it the more I love the idea, but I also fear rejection--what if I try it but nobody wants to come? They'd rather stay at home "liking" on Facebook and tweeting into the ether, or simply enjoying peace and quiet. As Sartre pointed out, "Hell is other people." Can conversational skills actually atrophy? Real conversation still happens for captive audiences on airplanes who are wirelessly deprived, so I see a glimmer of hope. Although I admit I am the first one to bury my nose in the book on the airplane, sending the clear signal that I Don't Want to Talk...perhaps I should revisit that.