My insightful (and soon-to-be-married!!) friend Erin asked this question on her blog recently, and it got me thinking: “Are we asking less and talking more?”

When I get together with other writer friends, some other people in the arts, even, we usually don’t converse with question-and-answer conversations. We usually volunteer information in a back and forth manner… One could go an entire — fulfilling, polite, engaging — conversation like that, without really asking questions of the other person…

Which leads me to wonder: are we all a little bit more self-centered in this age of readily available status information?

My thought is yes, although I don’t know if it’s because of the readily available status information, or vice versa. Would Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or (dare I say it) blogs be popular at all if it weren’t for a generation that grew up thinking we were special and should make our voices heard?

As I (theoretically) mature, I try to keep an eye out for things about myself that I can improve, and this self-focus issue is a big one for me. It’s not that I don’t care about other people — precisely the opposite! I am fascinated by other people and genuinely want to connect to them, yet I often find myself walking away from a conversation wondering why I started every other sentence with “I.” I think it’s because that’s how I was taught to relate to people: show them I can identify by contributing a similar personal experience. Only sometimes, that hijacks the conversation away from them. So I’m working on asking more questions and leaving “I” out of it. (When I can remember…)

Erin goes on:

…we’re all in touch in a way we could not have been a generation ago — scant years ago. And we’re in touch while barely communicating. I haven’t heard the actual voice of many of my friends who live far away in months and years. We talk casually via the internet and social media and that’s it. We haven’t seen or spoken to each other “IRL” or “in RL” or “in real life” — but is that bad? (And what’s real or, conversely, fake, about these online communications?) Does this represent a degeneration of personal communication, or is this an efficient streamlining of it? We can stay in contact with multiple people at once; we can multitask socializing. Is that a good thing?

Haha, depends who you ask. Again I say yes, it’s a good thing, even though I miss my friends’ voices. I mostly feel this way because I’m not a fan of the phone. I just can’t concentrate on it! (I also don’t like someone being able to reach me anytime they want, although selfishly I like to be able to reach out to someone whenever I want.) But with chats or emails, I’m in control of when I reply, and I can keep in touch with more people pretty efficiently.

Face-to-face communication with friends is almost always preferred, because it’s the most fun, but as the world becomes more accessible and we all start moving in our own directions, I’m so grateful we have the technology in place to make thousands of miles feel like hardly any distance at all.

Anyway, there’s more to the whole discussion, and I don’t think either Erin or myself have or expect any definitive answers, but I enjoyed reading her post because it mirrored a conversation I’d had in my head many times in the past year.

(And yes, I regularly hold conversations with myself in my head. Sometimes even with my mirror. Don’t you? Or is that just me? If it is, I blame Andy, who is always happier when I’m quiet.)

8 responses to “Conversing, connecting, or both”