Connecting vs. Conversing

Posted on: April 30th, 2012 by Kawika Holbrook
1 Comment

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.

One Response

  1. Anjali Daryanani says:

    Great article — thank you for sharing. Really important points that it is possible to have conversations that are grounded in technology but driven by the human element, and interesting view that social media has become the “scapegoat” for a form of communication that might not necessarily be a problem if guided and utilized in a conscientious way. Readers, if you have an additional minute, please check out a blog posted written by my colleague on the same topic: “From Technological Connectivity to Cultural Connectivity” here: http://bit.ly/JiJEY2 We do the work that we do at One World Youth Project so that youth can connect across borders using technology in authentic and meaningful ways, with technology used as an enabling force rather than an impersonal medium or a distraction.