It’s not death of conversation, its death of small talk

This is part of an ongoing conversation I have with my wife as well as a response to a not-so-recent op-ed in the New York Times: The Flight From Conversation.

The crux of the argument is that technology and always being connected is killing real conversation, and even as we become more and more connected online, we are becoming more isolated and alone in an absolute sense.

The quality of conversation on Facebook sucks, because it’s where people go to make small talk.

Limiting your view of online conversation to Facebook and Twitter is like using conversations between two teenagers talking about the “popular kids” to represent all in-person communication. You’re missing all of the important stuff.

The internet provides outlets of expression and community support to people isolated in the physical world. It’s not just in oppressive countries where activists are only able to organize online, it’s also for women to socialize without judgement, or transgender individuals to give each other support. These connections are made possible by the internet, and saying that these conversations are less fulfilling than in-person ones, ignores the reality of these peoples lives.

By moving small talk to Facebook an Twitter, it frees up time for richer, more substantive conversation in-person. The conversations I do find myself having are more substantive than before, and this is partially enabled by all of the conversations I participate in online.

In this environment, physical connections become more important not less. These are the people you have actively chosen to be a part of your life. These are the people you communicate both on Facebook and face to face. These are the people you want to–and feel comfortable with– sharing experiences and thoughts you would normally keep inside you head, not posting to Facebook or Twitter.

Granted, I no longer have family dinners involving teenagers sitting around the table more engaged with their iPhones than talking with their parents. But, hasn’t this always been the lament of parents: disengaged, inattentive children? Technology hasn’t exacerbated this generational divide. The answer isn’t banning cellphones or laptops, it’s improving communication with your children. Finding ways to communicate, and topics to communicate about. And, guess what is the easiest way to do that? Engage them where they are communicating and discussing what interests them: The internet.

Yes, Technology is changing the way we communicate. Yes, we talk less around the water cooler, or in public forums, the bus,the airplane, in line for the movie. But, this doesn’t represent some tragic tearing of the social fabric which binds us all together; rather, these bonds are moving from the physical world to the digital. And, I would like to think, becoming even stronger.


Originally published at chrismaury.com.