Book Review: Reclaiming Conversation

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This book review is a real conundrum.  I should be shouting from the rooftops…”Put down your phone!” “Close the tabs on your laptop” “Have a real conversation with a human!”  But…you might not recognize your need for that unless you read this review and hopefully the whole book.  Totally kidding…who doesn’t know that we are a generation that needs to lift our head, put down our phone, have real conversation that doesn’t include a “like” button??!!  My first read of 2017 was a great one!  I kicked off the year reading Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle.  I had previously read her book Alone Together which I reviewed here in 2013.

I’m so grateful to revisit many of Turkle’s thoughts as it relates to conversation, real relationships, and depth of character apart from the digital life.  I decided to give it a whirl today and put my phone out of reach and out of sight.  I’m not a transplant surgeon, it’s not likely that anyone could ever need me immediately.  I was home today with my husband and our kids…my most precious treasures were all under the same roof with me, and all was well.  And…it’s almost 10pm at night and my cell battery is still somewhere north of 90%.  That’s pretty remarkable and I LOVED it.  So much so, I’ll give it another try tomorrow.  Today was January 1…that’s a great day to start new habits.  If I truly want the people in my life to know that I love and care for them deeply, I have to put an end to the digital intruder that is always competing for…and sadly often winning…my attention.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • “We had talk enough, but no conversation.”  Samuel Johnson, The Rambler (1752)
  • Face-to-face conversation is the most human—and humanizing—thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen.  It’s where we develop the capacity for empathy.  It’s where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood.  And conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life.
  • Real people, with their unpredictable ways, can seem difficult to contend with after one has spent a stretch in simulation.
  • Conversations is on the path toward the experience of intimacy, community, and communion.  Reclaiming conversation is a step toward reclaiming our most fundamental human values.
  • We struggle to pay attention to each other, and what suffers is our ability to know ourselves.
  • These days, we want to be with each other but also elsewhere, connected to wherever else we want to be, because what we value most is control over where we put our attention.
  • Conversations of discovery tend to have long silences.
  • For anyone who grew up with texting, “continuous partial attention” is the new normal, but many are aware of the price they pay for it’s routines.
  • Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly.  It teaches patience.  We attend to tone and nuance.  When e communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits.  As we ramp up the volume and velocity of our online connections, we want immediate answers.  In order to get them, we ask simpler questions, we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.  And we become accustomed to a life to constant interruption.
  • Declaring and defending yourself is how you learn to be forthright.
  • Boredom and anxiety are signs to attend more closely to things, not to turn away.
  • More generally, the experience of boredom is directly linked to creativity and innovation.  I’ve said that, like anxiety, it can signal new learning.  If we remain curious about our boredom, we can use it as a moment to step back and make a new connection,  Or it offers a moment, as von Kleist would have it, to reach out and speak a thought that will only emerge in connection with a  listener.
  • Reclaiming conversation begins with reclaiming our attention.
  • Solitude does not necessarily mean being alone.  It is a state of conscious retreat, a gathering of the self.  The capacity for solitude makes relationships with others more authentic.
  • American culture tends to worship sociality.
  • To mentor for innovation we need to convince people to slow things down, let their minds wander, and take time alone.
  • Family conversation is where children first learn to see other people as different from themselves and worth of understanding.
  • Parents need a fuller understanding of what is at stake in conversations with children—qualities like the development of trust and self-esteem, and the capacity for empathy, friendship, and intimacy.
  • This is our paradox.  When we are apart: hyper vigilance.  When we are together: inattention.
  • “Emotional intelligence has to become an explicit part of our curriculum.”
  • A lot is at stake in attention.  Where we put it is not only how we decide what we will learn; it is how we show what we value.
  • Students avoid faculty in large part because students are anxious about the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation.
  • There are some kinds of conflicts that only words can parse and resolve.  We have to think about preparing our students and employees to participate in these conversations.  No matter how rich and even subversive, the meme track can only take them so far.
  • Begin by admitting vulnerability and then design new behaviors around it.
  • “I send you an idea and you comment on it and send it back is a different process than us talking about an idea together.  You lose the better idea that comes out of the exchange…We underestimate how much we learn and read and take in of each other’s breathing and body language and presence in a space…Technology filters things out…Breathing the same air matters.” Stage Director Liana Hareet
  • Champion conversation in the day-to-day.
  • Address the anxiety of disconnection.
  • I have said that if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.
  • “In the end, we will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy.”  John Sawhill, Conservationist
  • To respond to an email by saying “I’m thinking” says that you value reflection and you don’t let yourself be rushed just because technology can rush you.  Emails and texts make quick responses possible; they don’t make them wise.
  • Create sacred spaces for conversation.
  • Think of unitasking as the next big thing.
  • Talk to people with whom you don’t agree.
  • This is our nick of time and our line to toe: to acknowledge the unintended consequences of technologies to which we are vulnerable, to respect the resilience that has always been ours.  We have time to make the corrections.  And to remember who we are—creates of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships.  Of conversations artless, risky, and face-to-face.

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