The Flight of Conversation

After reading Jeff’s post about being “disconnected”, it got me thinking…Then my friend Sara posted this article on her Facebook: The Flight From Conversation.

One thing I have always worried about with using technology in the classroom is how it will affect my students personal skills.  How it will affect their day to day language acquisition (which is a big problem when teaching second language learners). A quote from a 16 year-old boy in this article illustrates this fear: A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”  With less conversation going on outside of school, is it important students learn to have a conversation in school, or is the art of conversation on the way out?  Will students need this skill in the future when acquiring a job or is it becoming obsolete?

Some of my favorite parts of this article:

1)My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done. –talk about multi-tasking! Are you really involved in either conversation if you are trying to juggle both?

2) We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being “alone together.” 

3) Texting and e-mail and posting let us present the self we want to be. This means we can edit. And if we wish to, we can delete. Or retouch: the voice, the flesh, the face, the body. Not too much, not too little — just right. —This goes back to the article I read about “Facebook depression”.  No one is perfect, but you can make it seem that way in your digital life.

4) FACE-TO-FACE conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. –Lord knows by students need more help in learning patience.

5) If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

6) I am a partisan for conversation. To make room for it, I see some first, deliberate steps. At home, we can create sacred spaces: the kitchen, the dining room. We can make our cars “device-free zones.” We can demonstrate the value of conversation to our children. And we can do the same thing at work. There we are so busy communicating that we often don’t have time to talk to one another about what really matters. Employees asked for casual Fridays; perhaps managers should introduce conversational Thursdays. 

Monday night food for thought..and maybe a conversation.



3 thoughts on “The Flight of Conversation

  1. Hi Laura,
    sounds like a terribly depressing article looking at the youth of today. The disintegration of conversation has played on my mind a lot in the last couple years. The picture you have chosen is a perfect sum of what we see everyday. We were in a very cool bar last week and we shared a big table with a group of young twenty somethings and out of 6 of them 5 or 6 of them seemed to be on their mobile phones for the twenty minutes that they sat there. The only time they stopped was to take photos of each other and then would quickly continue being transfixed by their phones. On the Sky train I travel on everyday in Bangkok it seems like 80% of the travelers are looking at a small screen. I guess this is not so terrible when people are traveling as they are making the most of their time. I am still getting my head around the fact that people are genuinely doing work when they are on their Smartphones. I have to say it is strange when our principal reads the morning notices from his iPhone and takes notes but that is the way it is. I guess the Smartphone generation is only as switched off as those that read a book in a public place.

    Anyway I think I have gone off track somewhat. Students are clearly building relationships online better than in person sometimes. This is great in someways as with you and me we are trying to build up professional learning networks but if this online activity stops people from feeling comfortable to have a conversation or have face to face interaction there is something seriously wrong. My best student example of this, is; I questioned my houseroom recently what the reason was that they did not want to attend the school dance. The response from an overwhelming number of them was that they would rather get home and then speak to their friends on Facebook or Tumblr. This is scary!

    This article is clearly a worrying look at how technology is effecting us in negative ways. I especially agree with point 4 that you made. The art of conversation is certainly being twisted on its head. However I do want to point out that there are valuable uses of this with students that are usually very shy to speak in class or with peers. The online world is a “safe haven” for them to express themselves with a confidence they can lack in everyday situations. A colleague pointed this out to me 3 years ago when he set up a class blog with his year 6 students. Saying that times have changed beyond this.

    I hope it will not get to the point where we have teach our children and students how to have a conversation, it does seem rather extreme. We should be teaching them to use the technology at their fingertips responsibly.


  2. As a kid growing up in a house with my parents and three siblings, I would imagine bringing phones or other devices to the dinner table would be like sitting at the dinner table with your ball cap on – you just weren’t allowed to do that. It had something to do with good manners as I recall.

    It’s kind of funny, but phones are supposed to improve communication, not kill it. But that’s exactly what they do to conversations – they kill them. How many times have you been in a conversation when the other person’s phone rang and he excused himself so that he could take the call?…and you were just left hanging. Not a good feeling. Likewise, if I was sitting down to dinner telling my parents about my day and my dad’s phone rang, if he were to pick up the phone it would kill our conversation. I imagine that while I waited for him to return to the table I’d start texting other people and the end result would be a whole family’s worth of fingers tapping until ultimately someone attempts to start a conversation about how fully autocorrect can be.

  3. “If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.” This is so true and so powerful.

    You mentioned second language learners in your post. While communicating only online is problematic, the ability for students who are developing language skills to “slow down” the conversation has, in my experience, allowed them to participate more fully in the discussions because they are not hampered by their (lack of) language abilities as much. It is still important to teach face-to-face conversation skills but the texting and messaging at times helps give students the practice and confidence to improve.

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