Can We Talk?

June 04, 2016

Can We Talk?

“I wish it was easier to talk to people. Real human beings,” said a repairman at my home.

I’d watched him dial corporate, select the right options (several times) and finally reach the right department only to be put on hold (by a recording) for another twenty minutes.

Then, while talking to his boss, they got disconnected. He had to go through it all over again.

“I know what you mean,” I said.

We e-mail, text, tweet, Link-in, chat, comment, message, post and tell the world on Facebook what we “like” (or don’t).

We can watch movies and our favorite television shows, participate in Webinars, listen to podcasts — even get an education — on a cellphone, tablet or computer.

A growing list of high-tech devices connect us to (almost) all people and information that exist.

But all these instant connections have a price and not just in dollars.

The more connected we are, the further apart we’re becoming.

Call it collateral damage. Blame it on evolution. But technology is squeezing out conversations with people.

High-tech is making conversation obsolete.

Posts, comments, tweets and texts have a politically correct (and often technologically-controlled) number of words or characters allowed for any given transmission.

The new rule is, less is better. Make your point fast then get out. End Trans.

I understand but don’t always like it.

Conversations are becoming politically incorrect.

Communication Has Changed

Tablet, smart phone, computerThe way we communicate using the new technology has already affected not only our vocabulary and how we communicate online, it’s influencing how we talk (or don’t) in person.

People not only communicate in texts on cell phones; they now talk in texts and soundbites in real-life conversations.

Even our devices want us to talk to them instead of people. Siri (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) constantly interrupts me on my cell phone, insisting she wants to help.

This is how it went, the last time I talked to her:

Me: “Find the closest urgent care clinic East of here.”

Siri: “Find lowest merge genital hair link to yeast this year. Right?”

I like technology. Love having information so close. But I enjoy and appreciate talking to real people too.

Missing Good Conversations

Women having a meaningful conversationYou remember conversations. Right? They happen when two or more people get together, stop multi-tasking (for the moment) and slow down enough to hear another person.

Communication isn’t solely for exchanging info. It’s where we reveal to others who we are and they respond in kind.

It’s not branding, creating a profile or a presence online.

Those concepts are technological substitutes for introducing ourselves and then getting to know someone by talking and listening to another person.

Anything can happen in real-life conversations. We banter, tell stories, share experiences, dreams and hopes. Sometimes we become vulnerable and expose our emotions (that’s like using an emoticon — only better).

Good conversations can wander, take us places we haven’t been.

Conversations can inspire and expand thinking; they can bring answers to questions we forgot we had or information we didn’t know we needed until we heard it.

A collective consciousness can take over when two or more people talk. Epiphanies happen — during good conversations.

Unlike texts and tweets, we remember a good conversation. It can stay with us (like a good movie) long after it ends.

One conversation I remember took place in Israel in 1997. I was traveling the country alone, checked into a hotel for the evening and went to the restaurant for dinner.

While I was trying to figure out where to sit in a crowded room, a woman motioned to me. She didn’t speak any English; I didn’t speak Hebrew. But I understood what she wanted: she was inviting me to sit at her table and dine with her.

We sat together for more than an hour and didn’t speak one word.

But we weren’t eating like two strangers sitting next to each other at a counter in a diner. We were present for each other — aware of the other person.

After we finished eating, we sat for a while until — as if on cue — we knew our time together was over. We nodded, smiled and went our separate ways.

Conversations can help us feel close to people. Sometimes they (conversations) even change lives.

There are times we don’t want to talk. And yes, some conversations can be draining, suck the soul right out of us. Other conversations can be annoying. Some, downright boring.

Those aren’t the kinds of conversations I’m talking about. (We know how to end trans.)

Good conversation is honest, spontaneous, without agenda. The people involved want to talk to each other.

We don’t need an I.D. and password to participate. We only need to be present and open for it (a conversation) to happen.

Now you remember. Right?

Someone takes a moment to ask the cashier how she is — because he cares. The words we use aren’t memorized or from a bumper sticker: Have a nice day! They’re from the heart.

Sincere is the word that comes to mind.

I miss the long conversations I used to have on the phone (the old-fashioned kind), where we relaxed and talked for hours. (Yes, a good conversation can last that long.)

No yelling, “Can you hear me now?” No standing on a chair outside to get enough bars to connect on the cell phone. No interruptions while the other person repeatedly shouts, “You still there?” and you’re not because your battery died.

The conversation itself – experiencing it — is the event, not one more thing to do while we multi-task our way through life.

We feel good during a good conversation. Feel good about it after. Good conversations – brief or extended – are sprinklings of gold dust in life.

I miss conversation and conversationalists. Those moments, minutes or hours when people drop their guard, let thoughts and ideas flow, tell us their stories and show us who they are.

Leisurely conversations, where the topics take unexpected twists and turns, are what I miss most. A good conversation can take you for a ride. You laugh. Cry. Become inspired. It’s not like entering data into a computer.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

What The Future Holds for Communication

People (including me) wonder about the future. What’s it going to look and be like here in another twenty-thirty years? Will it be Utopia or a dystopian world?

Some already yearn to go back to the way it was. Too late. The future’s already here.

We don’t go to sleep one night and wake up to an unrecognizable planet the next morning(at least not yet.)

Natural disasters, wars, inventions, diseases, medical discoveries and our responses to these events bring change.

But for the most part, we evolve moment by moment.

So does the culture.

A friend recently introduced me to the concept of “memes.” Memes are similar to genes, but not as scientifically studied.

Memes refer to individual units of human and social behavior and ideas. They’re passed from person to person and culture to culture (similar to a virus.)

People see a behavior and imitate it, maybe alter it by adding their own spin. Like genes, memes replicate, mutate and respond to external pressures.

They’re how the big hair and perms of the eighties evolved into the hairstyles and fashions trending now.

Text Speak bubblesThe new language used in our new communication devices — LOL, IMHO, BRB (short for “laughing out loud,” “in my humble opinion” and “be right back”) — are examples of memes and how they work.

They begin slowly, with a few people, and then get passed around and spread until they’re widely recognized and accepted as standard social behaviors.

People have already evolved from using IMHO in emails, texts and posts to using these same “words” (by saying each letter out loud) in live conversation.

IMHO, that’s not conversing; it’s communicating using symbols and grunts. Makes me wonder if we’re evolving or regressing to a prehistoric era.

Communicating Like Robots

I’m not an extremist; not anti-technology. But technology is there to serve us, not the other way around.

We all help create the future by what we do (or don’t) now.

Instead of only checking emails, texts and tweets, we can make time to connect on a less superficial level.

We can learn how to live in both worlds: the world of texts, emails and tweets and the world where people live, learn, work, laugh, cry and talk to each other like we’re real human beings.

Has the wonder disappeared from life, leaving you wondering what’s happened instead? Is fear taking over?

Feeling isolated and alone – disconnected — even with all those online friends and connections?

Use your high-tech devices. Interact with the robotic voices. But we don’t have to be squeezed into (always) communicating like robots.

Talk and listen to one real person each day, even for a few minutes. It might help restore some magic and wonder in the world.

We may be on the verge of discovering life on other planets but we still need to pay attention to the quality of life here.

Can we still talk to each other? Like some might say in my home state of Minnesota: You betcha.

Preserve wildlife and the planet. But don’t let the art and gift of conversation become extinct.

From the desk of…
Melody Beattie
June 4, 2016

Note: As much as Melody would love to respond to all comments, this sometimes isn't feasible with her busy schedule. Please feel free to leave a comment but do so knowing she will only be able to respond when she has some time away from writing. She does receive your comments and deeply cares about what you have to say so please do leave a comment if you are compelled to do so.

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  • DavidO

    Perhaps the greatest misfortune that has come from internet social activity is bullying. People feel very free to attack because it appears SAFE. It’s a HUGE problem in my opinion. Many have been deeply hurt and wounded by the apathy and lack of love of bullies.

    It seems like the only solution is spiritual evolution. No legal remedy would work. Love is the only answer. It must be like a meme, spreading from one to another, and heal the world. It’s idealistic, but the only hope.

    There’s a meme among black people, to frequently use a certain word. I see it all the time on twitter. You see, it’s supposed to be self-loving, a term of endearment, even “cool,” but it’s self-degrading.

    You can surely understand how people could see something as self-loving, when it’s really a self-attack.

    I know a common teaching about self-love is to aggressively defend yourself when others wrong you.

    But is that really and truly self-loving?

    There’s a teaching in ACIM that people have a backward, or “upside-down,” view of things. From this point of view, things can be the opposite of what they seem. What seems to be strength is really weakness; weakness, strength. What seems self-loving is self-attack. Bondage is seen as freedom; powerlessness (perhaps control), power.

    Anyway, I agree with what you said about conversation. I guess I’m just trying to connect in that way.


    • disqus_RFzcsbNAeC

      Just a quick comment Dave,
      I have never heard of a teaching about self-loving that suggests defending yourself aggressively.
      Just say’in.

  • Thank you all, for your responses. You’ve all made valuable points. It’s not that I won’t be responding to your comments at all; I’ll be doing it when I have some time away from my writing. (Just didn’t want people to feel badly, thinking I wouldn’t be responding to or reading what you have to say.) And — be sure to check out the new Word Search puzzles; I’ve been working on getting those posted for a long time. I also want to apologize; all three of my previous sites were “lost” — by the former web person managing the sites. The good news is, we recently found some articles from the Grief Club site that contain helpful and good content. We’ll be getting those back online — as soon as possible. So, please feel free to comment, knowing I’m checking in (at some point) to read what you have to say. Plus I get a copy of your comments emailed to me. So, I will respond. But usually, not immediately (the way I used to) and more than that, I still care about what you have to say.

  • SoupySayles

    How about lol at you Melody. Good article, & very true, but I believe I heard you having trouble accepting change. Talk for hours, Melody is that necessary. My wife hates to text, she is the same as you, she wants to talk to the person, & then she talks so long my daughter, & grand children have gotten to cutting her off & hanging up on her to my pleasure. lol ✌😅

  • I agree — partially. I love some of the benefits of quick communications. But some of the best ideas and inspiration I’ve received have come from long conversations re subjects that interest both parties. (And rarely do I get inspired from texts.)

  • Zeve Brockman

    Hello Melody,

    I thoroughly agree with your article. I will even go so far as to wonder if we haven’t entered an era of new “communication addiction” growing out of the “old codependency.” Do I recall you discussing this in The New Codependency? Perhaps.

    The state of e-communication affairs has now (2016) gone berserk, it seems. I watch crowds of youth ambling around town squares looking downward at their smart phones in search of Pokemon on the Go. They LOL, OMG and WTF? text and various social platform greetings to each other, but that is the extent of their contact aside from curious glances like those of dogs meeting the first time. Is this a new behavior some hidden society has infected us with in order to control hundreds of millions (billions?) of people using a media so pervasive that we ‘users’ even shell out the thousands of dollars needed to buy the equipment? Is this insanity, or am I a conspiracy theorist? Sometimes I wonder if I am too quick to doubt establishment desires to control populations. After all, Bill Wilson wrote in the AA Big Book back in 1939 about executive desires to control the course of their experience to their advantage and the damage to their spirit that willful control sometimes caused (death by alcohol). Maybe we are in a new age of “top down” social engineering to benefit the modern few, incredibly wealthy and powerful individuals we know almost nothing about. Perhaps our “plebeian experience” is no longer relevant to individuals who, for generations, have lived insulated from the world at large by wealth, security guards, gates, alarms, and every “safety” human will and desire can conjure and money can buy. Is it possible that we are being manipulated by these devices at a grand scale (and observed, as in Orwell’s 1984), and because we alone are responsible for our own happiness we do not stop being “responsible” long enough to wonder if we are really being abused at a scale never before known in human history?

    Well, I don’t stay up at night worrying about it because all I need do is turn on a network TV news program or read a couple of Facebook posts about the election to realize that I am so far from having any sort of impact on the directions of society and communications as to have none. I readily admit I am powerless. Now more than ever, it seems we the masses are on our own to make existence good or evil, like humanity did before the first stone tool was hurled at another person. We are now 7+ billion persons and growing rapidly. Only our Higher Power’s will for us to love and do what increases love seems to me to be an antidote for the compression of humanity into smaller spaces and scarcer resources and shorter shorthand communications. The more physical and monetary wealth we desire, the more desperate we seem to become. The ubiquitous media then feeds the stories of conquest back to us on our expensive devices to teach us how truly desperate “things are” and that we MUST fight and claw and scale ever more difficult walls like Real Heroes to reach the promise land of – ‘retirement’. Wait. What?! HIGHER POWER, PLEASE help me slow myself, take the time to talk directly to people, seek Nature’s ways beyond the built environment, and make my will Your will of good. Let me be an instrument of Your peace! Phew. Saved again!

    Lastly, with that transitional sentence in mind I thank you, Melody, from the very depths of my soul for your writings. Your loving words have become the kind, loving, mother’s voice in my mind that is replacing the dysfunctional angst of my real childhood that has echoed in my head for some 50 years. I find that Bill Wilson is becoming my loving father’s voice. There is so much good in both of your writings that I find my grief rising in my throat sometimes as I read. At times I can finally feel my loss at depth, weep, let it go, and forgive all. Thank you for sharing your long struggle and beautiful words. You help so many not feel alone and hopeless in this era of estrangement.

    All of the Universe’s serenity to you, Zeve

  • disqus_RFzcsbNAeC

    I am in my early 60’s and I love this way of communication. I use it all the time.
    One reason for this is I have always been on the shy self conscious side, and this way I can communicate with others easier.
    I have always been in a field of work that demanded customer service skills.
    I enjoyed it but at the same time, I found it to be extremely stressful. People can be so rude and condescending.
    Any how, I only have a few acquaintances today. I don’t have friends, and I believe that is because of the high amount of anxiety I have communicating on a more intimate level. Today I just don’t bother.
    At least with my acquaintances, I can text an emogi, to let them know I am thinking of them.