Interesting article that points out one of the few potential drawbacks of SparkPeople. Which is why I think SparkGuy is wise to promote REALTIME, Face-2-Face contact among us members of SparkPeople. Support among our online SparkFriends is great, but it's our real-time connections during SparkRallies and other events that hold such promise!
Keep coming with ideas for pulling our local SparkTeam together folks! :-)
Where Conversation Goes From Here
By David Dudley, March & April 2010
We tweet, we text, we e-mail. Everybody's chatting, but is anybody listening? Why America needs to revive the vanishing art of conversation. We need to talk. www.aarpmagazine.org/lifestyle/where_conve
On a sparkling Sunday afternoon recently, I found myself in our local Baltimore park, sitting on a blanket with my 5-year-old daughter, consumed by an e-mail that appeared on my brand-new iPhone—a legitimately important communication from my employer that demanded a timely response. She chattered on (my daughter, that is, not my boss) about peanut butter and birds and how to sing "This Land Is Your Land" while I tapped out my reply.
Hitting "Send," I felt a flush of satisfaction—that's one less e-mail to deal with tomorrow morning—and plowed back into my in box, looking for more chores to dispatch. Then I blinked up to see all the other silently staring parents, slumped on benches or standing around, buried in the screens of their own smartphones. The kids ignored them; they ignored the kids; the birds sang, and the sun shone. And that flush faded to something closer to a chill.
Whatever happened to good old-fashioned conversation?
I'm not the only one who has been struck by the eerie quiet that surrounds us nowadays. "We have all these invisible walls built by iPods and cell phones," says Daniel Menaker, who crusades for traditional, face-to-face connection in his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation. "Not to be apocalyptic, but I'm very worried. There's a social obligation to be available in a public space."
Though hand-held devices now encroach on some treasured preserves of good talk—restaurant meals, an afternoon at the ballpark, the privacy of your car—Menaker's chief villain isn't technology per se but our work-obsessed lives. A job culture that demands always-on connectivity is flooding our days and nights with the clipped conventions and I-want-it-yesterday expectations of the work-place. The result: a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys, each of us a master of an ever-smaller personal universe.
To Menaker, a longtime editor at The New Yorker and Random House, this isn't just a public irritation; it's a cultural crisis. "The great yearning in human relationships is to stop acting, to become without disguise," he says. "That may be what sex is about, to some extent. And when people talk to each other face-to-face, they get some of those rewards. It is not explicitly sexual in nature, but intercourse is a name for conversation, after all."
By his standards, too much of my own talk is results-oriented instead of people-oriented. Like many two-career parents with small children, my wife and I communicate largely in grunts, gestures, marching orders, and brisk status reports. Gotta get to the dentist on Wednesday. Don't forget we're out of Cocoa Puffs. How am I going to get my work done this week? The closest things to conversation I've had recently were threads of comments on Facebook posts—intermittent volleys of confession, gossip, and one-liners from my socially networked "friends" online. But this improbable mix of personalities has never shared real-life space, and it's not as if we're deepening our connections as we swap snark over the latest celebrity excess.
"We're in danger of becoming a nation of hyperconnected hermits, thumbs furiously working our BlackBerrys."
Harvard psychiatrist Richard S. Schwartz, M.D., believes our new digital habits are feeding a trend already familiar in our mobile society: "We move a lot, and that widens and weakens our connections with other people," he says. "Technology creates this same widening and weakening." Schwartz is the author, with his wife, psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds, M.D., of The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-first Century, which diagnoses the central paradox of contemporary life—simultaneous connection and isolation. So diminished is our understanding of the value of being in the same room that Schwartz sometimes finds himself explaining to potential patients why therapy sessions, for example, should be conducted in person. "They ask me, 'Can't we do this over the phone?' "
This is not the first time disruptive technologies have threatened conversation. A few generations ago the main offender was radio. At 68, Menaker is old enough to hear, in his own stance, his father's disdain for television. Menaker places the golden age of conversation in the preindustrial era, among the salons and coffeehouses of 18th-century Europe, and credits talk back then with helping to hone new ideas, soothe political passions, and generally weld together a civil society. With the rise of digital communications, says Menaker, we are in danger of losing that well-trod path to humane regard. "There's a bleed from the Internet into ordinary conversation—people seem to feel freer now in person to do the kind of rant and denunciation you run across in anonymous postings on-line," he says. "What I find unfortunate is the loss of a layer of insulation where you're courteous and receive courtesy in return."
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