Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book- Reclaiming Conversation

I was asked to give a presentation on a social issue at our foundation’s interview. I was confused on what issue should I talk about. ‘Talk about poverty, gender equality, sanitation and a lot,’ suggested my friends.

I was aware of the issues but never had a proper understanding on those issues. I chose, ‘the need of conversations in technological space.’

‘Is it a social issue?’ asked my friends.

“Any issue that troubles a lot of people can be a social issue,” I maintained.

I gave a presentation on the same. I shared on how conversations are important, how the technology is hindering the process.

Reading this book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” I acknowledge the power of talk in a digital age and reinstate how there is a need of conversation amidst technological space.

An excerpt that hooked me on to the book:

Ava Reade, the dean of the school, says that she rarely intervenes in student social arrangements, but recently she had to. A seventh grader tried to exclude a classmate from a school social event. Reade called the remiss seventh grader into her office and asked why it happened. The girl did not have much to say:

The seventh grader was almost robotic in her response. She said, "I don't have feelings about this." She could not read the signals that the other student was hurt. These kids are not cruel. But they are not emotionally developed.

Twelve-year-olds play on the playground like eight-year-olds. The way they exclude one another is the way eight-year-olds would play. They don’t seem able to put themselves in the place of other children. They say to other students: "You can't play with us."

They are not developing that way of relating where they listen and learn how to look each other and hear each 


Children are making acquaintances, but their connections seem superficial.

We are being uncomfortable being alone.  Our conversations are substituted with a lot of connections.
The technological space we are into is hindering us to make friendships. These days, we do not make friends but add friends in social media.

We talk a lot. Through mail, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, memes, stickers, and whatnot.  

Aren’t we talking? Aren’t we connected?

“Don’t all these little tweets, these little sips of online connection, add up to one big gulp of real conversation?”  asked Stephen Colbert, actor, and comedian.

The author says, “No.”


This book is an examination of interpersonal and intrapersonal communications. Sherry Turkle cites Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

This book is also divided into three parts:

Single chair for intrapersonal communication,

Two chairs concerning the importance of conversations in friendships, families, and romances,

Three chairs for interpersonal communication such as in school, work, and politics.

Turkle gathered data from schools, companies, families, and articulated her research and expertise in how we are sacrificing our conversation for a mere connection.

What has replaced our conversations?

Digital communication.

“In the past twenty years we have seen a 40 percent decline in the markers for 
empathy among college students, most of it within the past ten years. It is a trend that researchers link to the new presence of digital communications.”

“Online communication makes us feel more in charge of our time and self-presentation. If we text rather than talk, we can have each other in amounts we can control. And texting and email and posting let us present the self we want to be. We can edit and retouch.”

With this editing and retouching our communications, we are into this Goldilocks effect: 

We cannot get enough of each other if we can have each other at a digital distance- not too close, not too far, just right.

With this constant connection, we celebrate technology. “Technology enchants. It makes us forget what we know about life.”

“We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to makes us less lonely. But we are at risk because it is actually the reverse. If we are unable to be alone, we will be more lonely. And if we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”

These days we spend more time on phone rather than with individuals. We spend more time on social media rather than in person.  Even people are interested to know stories through social media than in-person. Our social media presence has become a compulsive performance.

“I spend my time online wanting to be seen as witty, intelligent, involved, and having the right ironic distance from everything. Self-reflection should be more about, well, who I am, warts and all, how I really see myself. I worry that I'm giving up the responsibility for who I am to how other people see me. I'm not being rigorous about knowing my own mind, my own thoughts. You get lost in your performance. On Twitter, on Facebook, I'm geared toward showing my best self, showing me to be invulnerable or with as little vulnerability as possible.”

It’s easy to text, I am sorry but, it takes a lot to apologize in person.

“The text "I'm sorry" means, on the one hand, "I no longer want to have tension with 
you; let's be okay," and at the same time says, "I'm not going to be next to you while you go through your feelings, just let me know when our troubles are over."

What’s the problem with digital communication?

“Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. We attend to tone and nuance. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of our online connections, we want immediate answers. To get them, we ask simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters. And we become accustomed to a life of constant interruption.”


“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away. The ability to just sit there. That's just being a person.”

It is important to be in solitude.

“It is only when we are alone with our thoughts-not reacting to external stimuli-that we engage that part of the brain's basic infrastructure devoted to building up a sense of our stable autobiographical past. This is the default mode network." So, without solitude, we cannot construct a stable sense of self. Yet children who grow up digital have always had something external to respond to. When they go online, their minds are not wandering but rather are captured and divided.”

There are so many mediums taking away our solitude. We have our phones, Facebook, gadgets not, letting us to be ‘ourselves.’
We cannot develop the capacity for solitude if we don’t have the experience of being “bored” and then turning with-in rather than to a screen.

The strayed Self-Reflection:

We are relying on the numbers and narratives to reflect on ourselves. Today, we are quantifying our life and becoming an algorithmic self.

“The psycho analytic self looks to history as it leaves traces in language; the algorithmic self to what it can track as data points in a time series.”

We contend in the number of likes and the views. Reflections based on these numbers and narratives is another whole performance we are performing, running away to be ourselves.


The culture of conversations in families have changed to group chats, text messages and emails.  “Whenever there’s an important thing my dad wants to discuss, he discusses through the mail.” shared my friend. I could not realize why the conversation was substituted by mail but, I realized we are comfortable to stay behind the screen rather than speak face-face.

Conversations helps us to listen to each other attentively. Adults are failing to teach how to talk to children.

With various anecdotes, author shared how the family relations are turning shallow and people are unable to be vulnerable and expressive.

“Instead of settling down and figuring out what to say to his daughter, it is easier for the father to show love by taking pictures and posting them to the network.”

It’s easy to share a picture with corny caption than to talk to the person and share how much do they mean to them. It’s easy to tag the person on social media and tell the world about the person rather than sharing with the person herself.

“A good friend should keep you off your phone when you are together.”

Whenever we meet our friends, how often we try to stay away from the phone and give our full attention. How often we check our phones for emails, updates?

The new age of friendship are made over social media and the connections are also been done over the virtual medium.
People appreciate a talk over social media rather than in-person because the social media works on our reward loop and keep us high, whereas in-person conversation demands our attention and empathy.
The reason why we are empathetic over social media but do not care in reality is because the way we have created double selves in life. Social media is a performance and in real, we gotta live.  Because of social media performance, we are forgetting to be empathetic in real.

With such apathy and no interest in others, what kind of friendships are being made?
The empathy gap is being built a lot in children. Shall we shun away from technology? No. Let’s accept that we are vulnerable and start the dialogue to change the way our technological devices are made

Having such troubled situations in making friendships, it’s obvious to imagine how terrible are we in romancing with the help of gadgets.\


Conversation plays an important role in learning. Taking the MOOC as an example, author shared the importance of conversation. We are celebrating online education now.  In the west, with an experience of online education for long time, the educators and teachers are calling out to find a middle line for traditional classrooms and online education.

Even I was celebrating the distance online education from prestigious universities. But, the traditional classrooms and the discussions tab on our desktop can never be the same.

A study has shown how a combination of online and offline education can be effective.

Regarding conversations at work, we can reflect on questions, “how often do we reach our phone in the meetings? How often do we prefer text when we can talk?

There is a lot ‘conversation’ can help us to be empathetic, understanding and maintain healthy relations.

It’s highly recommended. This book is about what stops us from taking conversations.

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Universe of Music- A R Rahman

 He's always evolving and emptying his cup. Grateful to have him and be a life long learner.