The lost art of conversation

What ever happened to talking on the phone instead of to the phone? And when did sending a text conversation just by using emojis become normal? We are people who like to talk, so why do we opt now for digital communication over verbal or face-to-face?

Better Connections

Céad míle fáilte, or ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’, has long been associated with our Irish heritage and personality for centuries. We are renowned globally for our ‘gift of the gab’. Basically, we love to talk.

The Covid-19 pandemic tested our social and mental skills, as it did every other country. Digital communication became the new high stools at bars and Zoom replaced in-person meet ups with online webinars and virtual coffee meetings. In many ways, the tech did help us all stay connected within our communities and professions. But for the percentage that didn’t understand these tools or how to use them, it had the opposite effect, with many retreating into themselves and really struggling with the isolation, recurring lockdowns and strict social distancing measures. Alongside the strict measures, our natural necessity to talk to each other, was disengaged and it had a profound societal effect like we have never seen before.

Change in conversation

Conversations are like the secret sauce of the human experience, sprinkling communication magic into our lives. They are our global superpowers for sharing thoughts, making friends, education, problem-solving, creativity and passing on what we have learned. Most of us use conversations to solve puzzles, dream up wild ideas and, over time, build long-lasting friendships and family bonds. In a political sense, conversations can ultimately build bridges between cultures and shape the rules of society.

In recent years, technology has significantly changed the way we communicate, with messaging apps, social media and video-calling software enabling global and direct conversations. It has also raised concerns about privacy, information overload and the impact on face-to-face exchanges.

Yes, technology has expanded our communication opportunities but it has also brought new challenges to the way we converse.

While these tools connect us across distances, they may reduce the depth and quality of in-person conversations, which are essential for building strong and long-lasting relationships. Think about how most people will ultimately begin their day: checking their mobile phones, laptops, iPads and other devices for emails, notifications, text messages etc. All of this before we even think about calling a person on the phone. Voice messaging is also popular instead of actually ringing that number.

Losing face

So, why are we distancing ourselves from face-to-face conversations and opting for digital or non-verbal forms of communication?

The answer is a mix of things. Convenience, increased screen time usage, fear of confrontation, avoiding social anxiety, the ease of multi-tasking, checking and maintaining our social media presence, globalisation and the ability to connect across the world in an instant, time management on our own terms, the rise of a text-based culture – the list expands as does our high-tech world.

Ellen Gunning is a data prophet and CEO of Mettacomms, the platform which identifies embryonic threads of future trends. She says, “We are all much more pressurised for time, and the great thing about technology is that it brings two big benefits. The first is that it allows us to communicate speedily while we are on the move. The second is that we can now stay in touch with people, in real time, in far-flung locations.

“The disadvantage is that communication is mediated through a screen. For business leaders, current middle and senior managers, and older people, this is not an issue as they balance online and offline communication effectively. It is, however, a growing challenge for younger people. Because they have grown up using this technology, it is their first, and often only, preference. One of the trends we are seeing is that the more ‘connected’ people are via technology, the more they feel ‘disconnected’ from the world around them.”

However, Ellen also sees further change is afoot. “There are schools around the country introducing bans on mobile phones so that students are compelled to interact with each other. There are training companies who specialise in ‘socialising’ very clever university graduates who cannot communicate casually, face to face. There are many people who think that chatting is just filling time when, very often, it is getting the measure of the person in front of you. The art of face-to-face, in-person conversation is on life support, but I think we’re in good hands.”

Lost arts

The ease of texting and emailing does have its cons. Messages can be sent too quickly – you can’t edit them once they have gone – and there can be frustration and confusion on the receiving end, trying to decipher what these messages actually mean. There is also no real closure to a discussion.

A phone call can have a speed advantage on clarity. By talking things through, you will quickly discover if you are on the same page with someone, and you can actually sign off or say goodbye for full closure.

A more classic form of communication is largely being kept alive by enthusiasts. Elizabeth Maguire is on a mission to digitally archive and preserve vintage letters, postcards and photos with her passion project, The Flea Market Love Letters Archive.

“At the height of Covid-19, I myself had something like 88 pen pals from around the world and have since gone on to meet many of those letter-writers ‘in person’, once travel reopened,” said Elizabeth, who is originally from Philadelphia and is now based in Dublin.

“I would not have met or made those pen friendships without the use of social media combined with the appreciation for the handwritten letter.”

Just as her online project puts vintage communications in an accessible, modern context, Elizabeth sees the potential in blending old styles with new tricks. “I believe that the handwritten letter isn’t dying, but evolving,” she said. “Someone who is more comfortable using talk-to-text or a screen reader could prefer a more hybrid experience of the two forms.”

For me, there is nothing more personable than an actual phone call or meeting face to face. If you can strike a balance between digital and in-person interactions, this can work well and will 100 percent maintain healthy and meaningful relationships. Our reputation as a friendly, chatty country is something to be proud of, so let’s keep talking – in person.

Yvonne Reddin
Ordinary people often have extraordinary stories and Yvonne enjoys giving them a platform to share their experiences through her writing. A writer producing a mix of human interest, lifestyle and travel stories, she self-published her first book in 2022.

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