Friday, June 10, 2011

The Art of Conversation

The other day, my aunt was telling me a story about a phone call she had with her niece's baby daughter. My aunt repeatedly called the baby's name over her iPhone, and the baby wouldn't make a sound. The reason was that the call wasn't made through iPhone's feature, FaceTime- which allows video calls. The baby only knew how to respond to FaceTime calls, so she stared blankly at the screen waiting for my aunt's face to pop up. She didn't know how to reply to simply the voice of my aunt.

Although this story is about just a baby, it still shows how conversation is undergoing a massive, technological revolution.

There is a common adage that states: "It is not what you say, its how you say it." In today's mainstream society, this adage is most definitely correct.

We live in the era of Facebook and Twitter, and the age of texting. However, these websites are what allow what some like to refer to as "Conversational Terrorism". Conversational Terrorism is the act of terrorizing a conversation while practicing a lack of etiquette and elegance.

To say the least, the art of conversation has been lost.

Saying Happy Birthday to someone over Facebook instead of calling them or visiting their house if they live close by, texting someone sitting right next to you- these are things most of us do every single day. Humans are social animals. We love to talk, but aimlessly talking doesn't make for a good conversation. Unfortunately, Facebook and instant-messaging are hosts of aimless and pointless talking.

It has become rare to enjoy a good conversation these days. In our time of cell phones, text messaging, and emails, we are having less face-to-face interactions, and thus when we do meet up with people, our social skills are fairly rusty.

Speech production is processed in Broca's area in the frontal lobe of your brain. A University of Oxford Neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield believes that the instant feedback and impersonal communication offered by social networking sites could drive human brains and behavior in negative directions.

"As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity," Greenfield says.

Studies prove that web-sites can indeed affect how your brain functions. A study Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA, performed found increased brain activity after a computer-naive person was taught how to use Google.

Although technological advancements may positively affect the way we communicate, it may leave detrimental effects to our verbal skills.

Greenfield believes constant computer and internet use may be ‘rewiring our brain’, shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification and causing a lack of empathy. The neuroscientist believes technology may be behind the ‘alarming’ rise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the growth in the use of anti-hyperactivity drug, Ritalin.

According to a 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals ages 15 to 19 read for an average of 5 minutes per weekend day while spending over an hour playing games or using a computer for leisure. Studies also show that teenagers spend 31 hours per week online, rounding up to 4.4 hours a day.

Greenfield says, "Whilst of course it doesn’t threaten the existence of the planet like climate change, I think the quality of our existence is threatened – and the kind of people we might be in the future."

I spoke to many of my teachers regarding this topic, and they told me they definitely see a decline in attention span and empathy in the past 10 years. Most of them blame the internet and it's instant gratification.

Today, students in schools use the iPad to learn their times tables, whereas only years ago students sat in a desk reading their times tables over and over again.

Today, students play games or listen to songs on YouTube to learn the Periodic Table of Elements, whereas years ago students would repeatedly write them out until it was planted in their brains.

Today, students learn cursive handwriting using gadgets, whereas only years ago, students used to practice on paper again and again until they memorized how to do it.

I may be old-fashioned, but the old way reinforced our memories, creating familiar paths for synapses. According to Penn neurologist, Anjan Chatterjee, today's children's neural networks are different. There is no pattern as there used to be, no orderly fashion in which the brain can understand.

Thanks to the internet, instead of steady repetition, people have become exposed to an infinite amount of information, prompting multi-tasking, short term attention spans, and a lack of conversational skills.

In chemical terms, our brains have been rewired from being liquids to gases. In the liquid state of matter, our brains had ideas floating around at a normal pace. However, due to heavy internet exposure, out brains have been rewired to act as gases, ideas flying all over our head, making them hard to get a grasp on.

Unfortunately, the inability to grasp on a topic has led to our inability to have an enjoyable conversation.

The truth is, it is time for us to realize the importance of face to face interactions rather than texting or Facebook messaging our friends and family.

There is simply more etiquette, elegance, and respect in talking to someone face to face.

It's time to refine our conversational skills.

-That's the TFAT.


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