“Talk is an intrinsic feature of nearly all encounters and also displays similarities of systemic form. Talk ordinarily manifests itself as conversation. ‘Conversation’ admits of a plural, which indicates that conversations are episodes having beginnings and endings in time-space. Norms of talk pertain not only to what is said, the syntactical and semantic form of utterances, but also to the routinized occasions of talk. Conversations, or units of talk, involve standardized opening and closing devices, as well as devices for ensuring and displaying the credentials of speakers as having the right to contribute to dialogue. The very term ‘ bracketing’ represents a stylized insertion of boundaries in writing.” Anthony Giddens
I have long been fascinated by the intrinsic structure and order of conversation. A form of interaction that supplies both cues for how to proceed, expressions and communication of a non-linguistic form (feelings, emotions, pathos, enthusiasm!), internal rules about what is being talked about, tacit cues for passing along the conversation, handling of expectations regarding replies, responses, queries and the like, and of course, a shared experience and sense of time.
Good conversation is such an under-appreciated form of daily art and craft. And it’s not simple. Nor is it straightforward. Good conversation can bring about change. It can produce results. We move each other to new positions — if we’re good at conversation. Conversation can walk a pair of friends to a promise, a shared commitment, a decision or consensus. Good conversation can handle epic failures and still finish with a flair and a laugh.
We might be losing this art. And the pleasures enjoyed with it. Good conversation takes skill in handling both the involvement of people and the topics at hand. In ways, we seem to be losing both the ability to manage and negotiate the prism of feelings a good conversation may unhinge. As we may also be losing our ability both to mine a topic at depth, or traverse an escape to something completely different.
Most of all, we may be losing the wonder and spark of connection that a good conversation provides. That would be a shame. It’s not something that comes through the medium — for it’s in the eyes, the flesh, and again, in time.
While I am fascinated by this medium for its ability to create new kinds of conversation, I think we should protect and sustain conversation old-school style. Lose that, and we won’t have much to talk about.