My phone pings, it’s another text from a friend. We’ve been playing text ping pong since 8 0’clock this morning and each time I reply to her I feel just a little bit guilty that I’m not actually talking to her face to face or over the telephone. I’ve come to realise that I’m actually putting my household chores in order of importance over her.
Increasing numbers of us spend more time at home or in solitude either working or looking after children. Many of us are cut off from real live conversations and so instead spend more time tweeting, emailing, texting or Facebooking our friends, family or colleagues. Is it natural that we spend so much time in pseudo communication?
Maybe I should just pick up the phone and call my friend. I rarely speak to her on the phone anymore; in fact I rarely speak to anyone on the phone, I feel more comfortable with the more indirect means. That said, my mother, not yet adept with message technology will call a couple of times a week. We’ll chat for 20 minutes before she rings off because there’s a programme on the TV she wants to watch. That’s fine by me. I’m pleased she called. So why can I not do the same for my friends? The ironic thing is that when, on occasion, my friends and I do speak on the phone, I’m chuffed to bits.
For some, the thought of talking on the telephone feels too much like hard work. The conversation might go on for too long, or we’ll say something we didn’t intend to say, or we might respond negatively to a bit of news we don’t want to hear. It feels safer to catch up via text message or email, that way we can process the information before we respond.
Catherine Blythe, author of Art of Conversation says that too many of us are using social media with family and friends when we should be having proper conversations. She says that in many ways we are hiding behind social media because we are becoming increasingly fearful of real conversations.
It’s easy to make excuses as to why we shouldn’t pick up the phone; don’t have the time etc., but in fact it’s surprising how good it makes us feel just to talk ‘live’ to someone, especially when we’re at home for much of the time. And it’s far more beneficial for our wellbeing because we get a sense of connection that email or text messaging just cannot give us.
Of course social media has its place, we reach far more people using social media than we would do without it, especially if we use it in our business (Twitter) or finding out what distant friends or family are up to (Facebook). But in terms of quality contact, there is no substitution for a real life conversation. And it is important that we keep doing it if for no other reason than to feel comfortable with it. The less often we pick up the phone the more we will fear doing it.
So how do we have a real conversation? Well for starters we mustn’t think too deeply about it, which can tend to happen if we don’t talk much on the phone. This can take away the spontaneity and can stifle a conversation, leading to those oh-so-uncomfortable silences (also making it less likely we’ll want to do it again). We should also learn how to listen well. “In any conversation you should listen more than you talk,” says Blythe.
I think I should stop making excuses and just pick up the damn phone.