Reclaiming Conversation in a Digital World
By Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ~ Deuteronomy 6:6-7
We are all living in a hyper-connected world today, making constant connections through a myriad of digital gadgets and applications. We see many connections happening but are we having many real conversations? Think about it, if you were to add up all your texts, tweets, and posts would they even add up to one good conversation? I don’t think mine would.
Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, these days, many people with cell phones prefer texting to a phone call. It’s not always young people, though the data indicates that the younger you are, the more likely you are to prefer texting. And that’s creating a communication divide, of sorts — the talkers vs. the texters.
Some would argue that it’s no big deal. What difference should it make how we communicate, as long as we do so? But many experts say the most successful communicators will, of course, have the ability to do both, talk or text, and know the most appropriate times to use those skills. And they fear that more of us are losing our ability to have — or at least are avoiding — the traditional face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace, at home, and in our personal relationships.
We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connections add up to a big gulp of real conversation, but they don’t. Email, Facebook, Twitter has its place, but it does not substitute for conversation. ~ Dr. Sherry Turkle MIT Professor
Research at MIT shows that even a silent phone on a lunch table between two people causes them to share less with each other. In another experiment the very presence of a phone in the periphery of your vision leaves people feeling less connected with each other, less interested in each other, less empathic toward each other. Personally, after I read this research I made the decision to keep my phone in my purse when I’m out to lunch with a friend, or at dinner with my family. In this constantly connected world we have to work hard to cultivate face-to-face conversations with our friends and family.
How to Reclaim Conversation
People who see each other every day sometimes stop relating. We’re busy thinking about what we’re going to say while the other person is talking. If you catch yourself doing this, turn off the inner dialogue. Listen closely and your spouse or child might actually surprise you with something new.
Reveal a little.
If your spouse or child asks you how your day was and you answer with one word, you have missed a huge opportunity. Give him or her a sentence instead. The minute you self-disclose, he or she is more likely to self-disclose.
Ask for more details. Instead of responding with a phrase like I know exactly how you feel, say, Oh, that’s interesting. Tell me more. When you keep the focus on the other person, it will encourage him or her to open up further.
3 Digital Free Spaces for Conversation
- Dining Room
The conversations that occur around the dining room table, in the kitchen, and in the car are vital to helping children become successful adults and productive citizens in society.
By engaging your children in conversation, you teach them how to listen and provide them with a chance to express their own opinions. Conversations at the dinner table expand the vocabulary and reading ability of children, they also allow every family member to discuss his or her day and share any exciting news.
Spending a half-an-hour several times a week enjoying a meal and discussing important issues can help children in many ways. Even if your family only has 15 minutes to spend together talking the benefits can be enormous for all family members.