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Sunday, January 5, 2014

The lost art of conversation -- or-- why thinking is on it's way out


I was walking on the beach in Florida and thinking about how the young people I passed were not all on their cell phones (as seems usual when I walk down the streets of New York.) I wondered if maybe the beach was one place where people were actually just letting their minds wander and relax. But soon enough I noticed the phones and people were texting and taking pictures of themselves.

I was reminded of Wittgenstein’s 3 B’s. He said that all important thinking takes place in the Bed, in the Bath, or on The Bus. (I guess he didn’t go to the Beach.) His point was that in order to think clearly one needs to let one’s mind relax and avoid outside stimuli because it is one’s unconscious mind that does the real thinking. My question is: does anyone think any more?

One way people used to communicate was by writing letters. To me the main point of writing a letter was to find out what you yourself were thinking. Today everyone wants to text or tweet. Do they have to think in order to do that? In order to find out what everyday people are tweeting (I understand that many people, including me, tweet to get their ideas out to a community of which they are part.

Here are some tweets that came up when I typed my last name into twitter. They are from (3) teenage girls I am guessing:

There is just something really special about snow.
IU is just so cool❤
Bloomington bound

I really, really, hate when I accidentally favorite things. And most of the time, I favorite things from people I don't even know that well
I've come to the conclusion I really need to get some friends
Finally get to play my game!! 

My game better be finished downloading when I get home or ill be so upset 

Hate stupid shifts like this like 8-1 if you're gunna get me up early why cant I have a full fucking shift 

COOOOOOL ...

Leggings have made me realize how uncomfortable jeans really are

Hahahahha omg   

I guess these are conversations in a sense but they are not ones that are causing anyone to think very hard. If everyone is tweeting, checking for tweets, texting, or plugged into some sound or other, when does anyone let their mind wander and think?

One problem with not letting one’s unconscious free to muse every now and then is that real learning, real education, is about dialogue. (Aristotle certainly made this clear as does any professor who talks with students rather than lecturing at them.) No dialogue, no hard thinking. 

School is busy pressing on with “its all about testing” philosophy so even if their were teachers inclined to engage young people in dialogue they probably wouldn’t have much of a chance to do it.

So where does this leave us as a society? We stop any conversation we might be having in order to answer a text. We don’t have the opportunity to find out what we think because we never muse and talk with about our ideas. We text on the Bus. We text in the Bath (or listen to headphones). We are texting goodnight as we go to Bed.

I read recently where sharks are tweeting their location. Soon, perhaps our bodies can tweet how they are doing. Our stomachs will tweet that they are hungry. No one will have to think or talk at all.

1 comment:

Lew Perelman said...

I recently saw some research which found that the ways people use social media varies mainly by personality and doesn't seem to depend much on age, gender, geography, political leaning, or other things one might expect.

So the samples of 'conversations' you cite are not necessarily representative of all types of social communication through these media. Tweets or texts (SMS) may be idle chat. Or they may be used to point to other, richer contents like this blog. In this way, they may be just parts of larger conversations -- like highlights, headings, or call-outs.

Moreover, verbosity does not necessarily correlate with content or meaning. Hemingway was known for terse language. Challenged once to tell a whole story in only 6 words, he wrote:

"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

Along that line, check out #twitterfiction and @TWfictionfest.