The Value of a Boring Conversation

Sep 14

While I've not read any of Sherry Turkle's books, I have watched her Ted Talk and watched some of the discussion and at times controversy around her ideas.

The one idea that's been bugging me for a while with my own media use is the seduction of personalization and control. We have so many ways we connect to people and most of them allow us a great deal of control with respect to who we listen to and when and how we respond. This is truly empowering. I recall how wonderful email was as it allowed you to decide when you would respond to someone as opposed to being tethered to time and place with a phone call. In addition, you eliminated the long, boring conversations that often cut into other activities you deemed more important. 

We have much fewer boring conversations. At first that seems like a good thing. No more listening to a colleagues taking 20 minutes to tell you something that could haven taken 2 minutes. Online we hop in and out of things that interest us and can't fathom doing anything that doesn't fully engaged us. 

But do you see the danger? We've moving to a society that is increasingly self centered. Only watching what we want to watch, listening to what we want to listen to and speaking with who we want to speak with. One phrase my mother never used was, "This isn't a restaurant, you eat what you're served". I say that all the time to my kids because they feel somewhat entitled to get what they want. This move to personalization and customization of everything has its drawbacks

So why is sitting through a boring conversation (or any experience we view as mundane) important? First and foremost it honors people. It acknowledges the value of every person's experiences and perspectives. It also teachers us to look harder for meaning and significance. Just because an activity or experience isn't immediately engaging it doesn't necessarily mean it's not of value. Remember when you used to listen to the radio? While we often listened to music we didn't immediately like, over time, we likely discovered artists and songs  we might not have otherwise discovered. Now with Pandora and Spotify, we have a tendency to only satisfy our current tastes as opposed to finding new ones. 

I'm worried about our technology make us more selfish. I'm excited to see all the ways technology can and is being used to make the world a better place. There's certainly a wack sack of examples of people caring and sharing with others but at the same time that we're doing all these great things, we're also in danger of only doing the things and paying attention to the things we like. I get it, there's balance to be struck but I write this mostly as a reminder to myself to be careful not to build a customized world that is designed to satisfy my own interests at the risk of ignoring others. 

Carry on.

Photo by: Neil Moralee

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