Social media is without a doubt undermining the skills of those who didn’t have a lot of social skills to begin with. Twitter feeds that read ‘me, me, me’ barely interacting with others are a simple expression of it. People who think online isn’t real and that what they say there doesn’t count. People hiding behind their monitors to say that which should never have been said.
I’m old enough to remember when it was television that was blamed for communication breakdown. I’ve also seen the evidence to suggest that go back further into the past, and the problem was books. All of this leads me to the conclusion that blaming books, television and the internet for poor communication skills is probably missing something important.
I’ve sat down with people who had nothing to say to each other. Conversations full of trivia and futility, or worse still, manufactured arguments over politics and religion. Something to fill the otherwise aching void. When we might all be better off admitting we have no interest in each other and nothing in common and just this sense that we ought to communicate.
I find silence is often the best measure of closeness and mutual interest. If people can be silent together until something worth saying comes along, and if that silence is easy, or fertile, then you have a serious relationship. If the simple act of putting our bodies into the same space feels good, then we’re onto something. If we can do something together – with or without words, then we’re connecting. Conversation for the sake of it is often strained and pointless. Small talk because noise is more comfortable than the truth a silence might reveal. Arguments over abstract and distant things to cover for the real and immediate tensions.
I’m not interested in the art of conversation, nor in winning arguments. For me, a good conversation is slow, halting, full of pauses as people think about what needs saying. Rich with silences, and warmed by what it means to be people in the same space.