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”

  1. Todd Newton Avatar

    Very interesting insight. I hadn’t thought about the “Disney” message, as I call it, actually influencing the popular technologies of our generation. I’ll have to give it some more thought.

    • Todd Newton’s recent blog post: Things to remember while writing/editing

  2. SassyLittleGinger Avatar

    The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking “I totally understand what she means,” and “I do that all the time.”

    So basically, that proves that yes, we definitely do that. I was doing it as I was reading this! There have been several times when someone has started telling me something, and my immediate response begins with “I.” Right away I’ll think of something from my own life that relates to their story, and feel the need to tell them. If I realize I’ve done that after the conversation is over, I think something like “crap. I hope they don’t think I’m annoying and self centered, because I really was interested in what they had to say!”

    And go figure, this entire comment is loaded with sentences that begin with “I.”

    • SassyLittleGinger’s recent blog post: Young Hollywood at it’s Finest

  3. Les Avatar

    I talk to myself in my head allllllllllll the time….

    • Les’s recent blog post: Can I do it?

  4. floreta Avatar

    i find this topic completely fascinating! there are various books written about this self-righteous Gen Y. :) i ought to read them.. there have been NY Times articles too.. it’s a good question. are we less in touch or more in touch thru social media sites? it’s both a trap and a tool to me.. even when i reply in comments i normally talk about “i” and my experience as the subject relates to the post. i don’t find this rude at all or hijacking, but just offering my perspective. i do see that it’s a self-centered way of answering to a post though.. might have to rethink it.

    • floreta’s recent blog post: Watery Wednesday: Rainbows

  5. Mary Avatar

    The whole world has forgotten the art of making small talk. When you make small talk, you’re supposed to ask as many questions as you answer. I sometimes fall back into talking about myself simply because the questions about me are implied. On top of that, I don’t always know the right questions to ask, and even when I do…the other person doesn’t always know that they’re supposed to answer them with more than “fine” or “good.”

    It’s actually why I hate communicating primarily over the internet. It’s too easy to answer a question with a monosyllabic answer, and then wander off to another website, or even away from the computer entirely.

    But the fact still remains that when you talk to people, they will think you’re an interesting person if you give them the opportunity to talk about themselves.

    • Mary’s recent blog post: The Little Things

  6. Kristan Avatar

    I don’t think of commenting in the “I” as being self-centered either, but somehow it’s different in a real-life conversation, particularly when that’s the ONLY thing you’re saying, you know? I do think you bring up a good distinction, though.

  7. Krista Avatar

    i almost came over and here and ranted like my dad about the end of the world coming because people won’t just TALK to each other, but i’ll save you an earful.

    kind of related, but not really (maybe?), i was listening to a radio show this morning and they were talking about watching a television interview between an economist and the host in the 70s. they pointed out how amazing it was that when one man was speaking, the other seemed to be actually LISTENING and they NEVER INTERRUPTED and they were courteous even when they disagreed. i wish people still knew how to talk and handle each other. everyone is so easily offended.

  8. Angie Avatar

    I miss you too! and our in person conversations, sadly we’re separated by a few states. Actually, I’m coming from the other end of the spectrum in that I’m tired of small talk (probably because I’m still in school). Trust me, I talk a lot of random these days, and use “I” plenty, but as a differential like you said of my experiences after listening to someone else’s. But most of these daily interactions are so superficial, they don’t get much deeper and conversations like ours are what I really crave.

    Actually I haven’t had a good, “IRL” deep conversation in a while. :/ So just like you they take place in my head!

    • Angie’s recent blog post: It was a really good photograph