Reclaiming Conversation

Conversation affords us at Truth the richest insight into people and their lives. Whether by what is said explicitly, implicitly, or not said at all, communication via a diverse range of channels allows us to understand consumers across cultures on a daily basis. We recently attended an event hosted by Kings College and the Ego Media Project, where internationally-esteemed media scholar Sherry Turkle talked about the impact of digital technology in the context of face to face communication, and the potential jeopardy that technologically mediated communication imposes on our relationships, creativity and productivity. She identified an ‘I’d rather text than talk’ culture across generations which reflects the transactional nature of common-place conversation in today’s world. What does texting and email offer us that’s so seductive? Ubiquitous and familiar, it’s easy to forget how revolutionary digital technology still is. In a metaphorically child-like stage, Turkle’s fundamental point is that it is a consumer movement that should cultivate and nurture technology into something that will nurture us back - to create ‘better technology’. 

Digital communication has gotten us accustomed to an edited life, to self-presentation that shows us at our best and lets us pre-prepare a perfect portrayal of ourselves and our thoughts. But the fluidity and variability of human conversation is arguably an equally, if not more, valuable tool in both our professional and personal lives. Next time you are composing the ‘perfect email’, take it to a real-time, collaborative setting instead, where creativity and empathy stand as the goal, and not perfection.

Technology provides us with a chance to never be alone and to never be bored, but Turkle strives to inspire us to walk towards boredom and anxiety without fear, letting our minds wander - reclaiming solitude and self-reflection in the process. This is something she believes is essential for our ability to maintain relationships with others. She implores us to embrace life’s lulls and to resist reaching for our devices in these quiet moments. Turkle’s research found that her students were unable to be alone with nothing but their thoughts for a mere six minutes. Has a constant accessibility of diverting information disconnected our focus not only from those around us, but from our private connections as an individual too? 

“Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.”

Turkle convincingly argues that we're currently immersed within a cultural moment of friction – we are engaging in a romance with our phones and we do not feel good about it. We are aware that it is not in our best interests to continue this way. This instability in our attitude towards technological communication serves as a perfect opportunity for change. She suggests that this needs to be consumer led – so that technology evolves in a manner that enables us to embrace the productivity and exciting opportunities that it offers, while at the same time not compromising our human values. It’s not about giving up our phones but using them with better intentions. There is scope for a consumer movement going forward which challenges and creates new social norms in terms of technology and culture.

By taking into account the impact of self-reflection over self-presentation, as well as the conscious moment of conflict that has presented itself to us, better designed and consumer led technology has the potential to encourage conversation rather than hinder it. A flight from face to face conversation doesn’t mean that the world has gone silent, it means that people have found ways around spontaneous, vulnerable and open ended conversations. A conversation is like life in that it contains lulls, nuances and imperfections. Within these moments we can find the Truth.