Archive for April, 2012

Connecting vs. Conversing

An image of the Facebook logo reflected in aviator sunglassesAt 1440 Foundation, we’ve seen more than a few reports lately lament texting and chat as tools removing a personal element from building relationships.

Human relationships are rich, but also messy and demanding. Sherry Turkle’s reported for The New York Times that “technology” is becoming the habit by which more and more people clean up those relationships. In essence, she writes, we seem to be moving from casual conversations to connections. The process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, she claims, it seems that over time we stop caring; we forget that there is a difference.

new study by Julian Orr finds “chat continuously but almost imperceptibly adjusts a group’s collective knowledge and individual members’ awareness of each other.” Orr’s research found that sharing stories help bind people through interpretation of a shared concept. Orr sees how students might benefit from teachers integrating Twitter and the concept of hashtags into online classes. Meanwhile, introverts — even famous ones such as Steve Jobs — seem to have a secret power according to TED speaker Susan Cain.

However, for all the article claiming that Facebook is making us lonely, there are just as many illustrating how social media brings us together. Harvard fellow Zeynep Tufekci detailed his thinking forcefully in a rebuttal to Marche’s article, saying,

“As a social media researcher and a user, every time I read one of these ‘let’s panic’ articles about social media (and there are many), I want to shout: Look at TV! Look at commutes! Look at suburbs! Look at long work hours!”

In another takedown of the Atlantic article, Eric Klinenberg (whose own book “Going Solo” is quoted in the Atlantic story) found many of the article’s historical claims to be “as unfounded as its sociological ones.”

“When the telephone arrived,” Marche writes, “people stopped knocking on their neighbors’ doors.” Fischer, whose America Calling is a landmark study of how the telephone affected U.S. social life, found that “When the telephone arrived, people didn’t stop knocking on their neighbors’ doors; they called and then knocked.” Marche argues that “If cars created the suburbs, surely they also created isolation.” According to Fischer, “The car did not isolate us; women flocked to driving cars because cars made it easier to get out and see people.”

Several bloggers, authors, and essayists have highlighted how social media is becoming the scapegoat for a much deeper social problem. That issue is perhaps best highlighted by a 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything. He tells Turkle, almost wistfully, “Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.”

And that’s what we at 1440 Foundation are trying to do in person and online: converse. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t always comfortable, but “connecting” just isn’t the same without real conversation.

Time to Connect?

Illustration of people holding hands

In April, 1440 Foundation spent a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook sharing articles, asking questions, and looking for answers — deeper meanings — in all this news about technology and the skills needed to cultivate deeper, richer relationships with ourselves, each other, and the world. It’s been a learning experience, for sure. Some of these efforts are working well. We’re gaining followers on Twitter and friends on Facebook. They’ve been good for sharing interesting articles (many of which are referenced above) and gleaning interesting perspectives from others. They have not, thus far, been a source of rich conversations.

Obviously, it takes time to build a community and trust. And people—even those who we support with grants or who will be judging our 1440 Challenge—are extraordinarily busy. So, to ensure meaningful conversation continues, we’re taking a few new steps, starting now:

  1. Look for our comments on articles and blog entries. Sometimes we’ll express our point of view, other times, we may just pose a question. But because conversations are happening far and wide, we’ll be stretching ourselves to dive in where they’ve started.
  2. We’ve started a real blog. This is the first post. It’s tough to express everything in the few sentences Facebook allots for posts before being truncated. It’s nearly impossible to share more than a single quip in Twitter’s 140 characters. Previously, we were sharing some quotations we found valuable here, but the page didn’t see a lot of traffic. So now we’re kicking into second gear with more long-form sharing. Obviously, we’d love to see some conversations around these posts, but for now it’s important just to get the words out.
  3. We’re preparing a few more videos that include interviews with the people whose programs we support. And we’ll make sure they’re available to share and embed on other sites, because what they’re doing is important and should be shared.

As always, if you have something you’d like to share, let us know. Pinned to the left of each page of our website are the social networking sites we use. And we have the 1440 Challenge going on right now, which is the best way to both share your big idea for teaching people about these relationship skills and get funding to develop it further.

Oprah Winfrey on Friendship…

“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”  — Oprah Winfrey

Dalai Lama on Compassion…

“A compassionate attitude helps you communicate more easily with your fellow human beings. As a result, you make more genuine friends and the atmosphere around you is more positive, which gives you greater inner strength. This inner strength helps you spontaneously concern yourself with others, instead of thinking only about yourself.” — Dalai Lama

Gary Zukav on Authentic Power…

“Anyone can become authentically powerful… When chaos, dissolution, dysfunction, or violence surround you, that is the time to create authentic power by not reacting to it. You decide what you will say and do, not your internal or external circumstances. You choose to be patient when impatience roars through you, silent when you want to shout, listen when you feel compelled to speak. You choose the healthiest intentions and actions you can reach for, no matter what. This is the real deal.” — Gary Zukav

William James on Education…

“The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will… An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”  — William James