I sat with my friend Toyin to talk about nothing. She mentioned sales at Debenhams. I went on about Monsoon, the clothing brand. She said she wanted to go to the beach. I talked about the three books I left on her coffee table. She pointed to the little boy in wellies splashing in the mud. I reminded her about our childhood, playing in white sand and filling our hair with it.
To me, conversation is pleasurable when we leave judgement at Heaven’s gate and manage to stop the clock from ticking. Multitasking, not to be confused with shared activity that carries conversation from point A to B, and multithinking are the bane of good conversation because if conversation is a way of telling our friends, “Please understand me,” then inattention is their way of saying, “We don’t want to.”
Toyin and I rambled until she checked her phone, “Thirteen notifications!”
I checked mine. “I miss my data coverage, I’m sure I have many notifications as well!”
She looked up and craned north, south, east, and west. “No free Wi-Fi in the park, sorry. Hey look!”
I looked at her phone, at the photo of the man and let my giggles collide with hers. “I’ve seen it before!”
Sometimes her thumbs moved over her keypad with the dexterity of a clerk from an era gone by. Other times her index finger slid across her screen, and she dropped odd bits of information here and there, like a child throwing pieces of bread to ducks at a pond. I kept my phone in my bag. Scrolling through old newsletters from writing, editing, and marketing groups, which caused my inbox to swell to 200 unread mails only made me determined to cancel my subscriptions. I drew circles in the ground with my sneakers.
She sighed and put her phone in her bag. “Why do we do this?”
I knew what she meant, why do we interject our conversations with episodes from social media as if our lives do not sizzle enough?
“Boredom?” I offered.
“No, we were really talking; then I wondered what other people were up to.”
She saw the twinkle in my eye. “I’m serious! It’s rude.”
“It’s not rude when everyone is doing it. It’s culture.”
“You sef!” She pushed me, but she did not apologise. “It’s possible to do without social media.”
I nodded. She told about how she forgot her phone at the office the weekend that her laptop also crashed. She couldn’t believe she’d survived that weekend without the internet.
“What did you do with all that time?”
“I slept, I read a book,” she shrugged.
Squeals from the family playing Frisbee in the distance caught our attention.
“In this time, we need another kind of fast. Food fasts won’t cut it anymore. We need social media fasts,” she said.
“Because if the purpose of a fast is to eliminate distraction and quieten the mind, then social media provides non-stop stimuli, from one link to the next. My appetite for the internet trumps my appetite for food.”
I nodded. The swings were finally free. I walked over, tugged the chains, and weighed their strength. Then I sat and had a go. She joined me.
“On your marks, get set, go!”
I rose higher and higher. I was winning. Then I thought of all the things that could go wrong. I slowed down and let her triumph.
Another kind of fast? I don’t know. Doesn’t the driver determine the speed of the car? Conversations on social media can be meaningful as well. Whatever the medium, the most expensive thing I can give anyone these days is my full attention.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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46 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Conversation”
What if I never learned the art of conversation?
It’s scary how we are slowly but surely become slaves to this thing (technology) that is supposed to make life easier?
Technology makes life easier. If we remind ourselves to remain on the driver’s what adventures we could have. I’m glad technology connected us and you learnt the art of conversation. Thanks so much for being here!
Great post Timi. It reminds me of a book I enjoyed reading, ‘The Winter of our Disconnect’ by Susan Maushart. How her family regained their lost art of conversation after doing without social media, phones, etc for one winter.
Hi Susan, I’m sorry I missed your comment, I like the title of the book and the subject matter. Social media brings some of us closer, drives some of us apart! What was the central take away for the family and for you?
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I love small talk. With new people however, I like to observe them from afar before engaging them. Be sure it won’t be a waste of my time. I have nothing less than 200 ebooks on my phone and almost 50 paperbacks. If the conversation won’t be better than my books, I don’t bother!
The books also help with my social media craze. I have not been on twitter since Sunday when Manchester United couldn’t win their match. I’m in my 3rd book since then. It’s an healthy distraction from the distraction that Social Media has become.
Everyone needs to learn how to ‘skillfully’ escape from conversation that isn’t engaging I guess 🙂 “If the conversation won’t be better than my books, I don’t bother!” Why waste precious time indeed? So, does small talk help you determine if the conversation would be worthwhile?
Five days absence from Twitter. I would say wow, but I don’t know what your social media craze is like. I like what you do with your time off- reading, yay! Thanks for being here.
I hate small talk but these days, no one likes to talk about things that really matter and it’s sad. It was nice to read this. 🙂
Me too! Instead of flitting from person to person at parties, I’d rather settle with a few people and talk the night away. So maybe one day we’ll hang out, and talk about the things that really matter. 🙂
Well penned. Sometimes it looks like our social tools have become more of a challenge to modern society than improvement. However, for me, the most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds is meaningful conversations.. no matter the medium.
True talk. If we don’t ‘master’ technology, technology will master us.
I like to think that meaningful conversations lets us explore who, what, and why we and others are, don’t you? They provide hindsight, insight, and foresight, but require our attention. Thanks Emeka!
Great conversation and great writing. Helluva combination!
Hi Benn, thank you! You are too kind with your words, which make for great conversation too, like, what resonated the most with you? 🙂
First and foremost what resonated most was the topic of conversation. It does seem to be somewhat of a lost art. I know I hunger for a good conversation and that is what motivates me to participate in social media where every once in a while you can have a decent conversation. At least one hopes. Another thing that caught my eye was the commentary on “fast” which is I think linked to instant gratification. That reminds me of the old joke: The main problem with instant gratification is (snaps fingers) it’s not effing fast enough! 🙂
I find that shared interests is a good place to start, don’t you? Sometimes on social media people stay on topic or add value to the conversation. I marvel that people can’t agree to disagree without throwing verbal punches. When people degenerate to name calling, I just shake my head. But, you probably don’t visit those kinds of sites 🙂
The myth of instant gratification . . .
It’s interesting for me to find what resonates with those reading. Thank you for indulging me and sharing.
Ahh, conversations with long-time friends are seamlessly blissful. They are a nostalgic heaven. I often take Facebook and twitter fasts, not because social media wastes my time but because I often waste my time on social media. “Whatever the medium, the most expensive thing I can give anyone these days is my full attention”- True words Timi.
ps, I need tips on how to speak with cab drivers. I cringe inside whilst making small talk(this is a problem) and they always seem to have gist and questions for me 😦 :D.
I love this, I’ve been turning it over in my mind: “I often take Facebook and twitter fasts, not because social media wastes my time but because I often waste my time on social media.”
@cab drivers, lol. I dunno, I haven’t met many really chatty ones. But in general, I find that people like to talk about themselves. I was in Aberdeen, and I asked a cab driver from Hungary (his accent wasn’t local), why he was in Aberdeen. We had an interesting conversation with him doing 95% of the talking, and I wasn’t looking at my phone. So maybe if you ask them stuff about themselves . . .
I was conversing with a friend who wouldn’t/couldn’t stop thumbing through his smartphone yesterday. I tried to ignore it but each time he looked down at his phone, my eyes followed and I find my voice trailing off…as if waiting for him to look at me. Unconsciously I associated looking away from me with “Excuse me, I need a moment.”
I couldn’t take it anymore then I said (he’s way older than I am, Timi. Lol): “Are you pressed for time? Let’ call it a day and we’ll talk next time.”
@Whatever the medium, the most expensive thing I can give anyone these days is my full attention. Amen to that!! The Lord knows I hate time wasters.
P.S. school started yesterday and we hit the ground running. I’m exhausted as I type this. Ko mo mi lara mo, haha! 😀
Ha ha, now we know why some people say, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
With so many things competing for our attention, I guess we have to discern who/what deserves our full attention.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to give me your attention (read and comment), I appreciate it. I hope you get some rest, Maggielola.
Such a relevant topic for the times. I would like to see how the human race is 50 years from now. It would be interesting to see how the younger generations, that have never been without the internet and social media, deal with life, relationships, personalness. Hmmmmm. Not sure I would like how things pan out. It is definitely shaping global culture though. It’s not something that will ever go ‘out of style’. So the question is then – How do we go into the future with this?
Hi Staci, i would also like to ‘peek’ into the future. I’m excited about how things will pan out. I mean, this technology that’s bridged the oceans and continents between us will only get better, right? Sure, there’ll be those who’ll want to walk dark paths, but there’ll be those who’ll harness technology for good.
Social media continues to shape global culture and we are writing and rewriting the rules of engagement. I think that giving someone your divided attention in what should be an ‘intimate’ conversation is as rude today as it was in the days of print newspapers and black-and-white TV!
I like your question- How do we go into the future with this?
Not that I have all the answers or anything, but I listened to a TEDx talk where the speaker said that attention is a limited resource that the brain allocates only to what it estimates as the most relevant thing . . . In the future, we’ll do well to remember that people are the most relevant ‘things’
How do we go into the future with this? I’m still thinking, thanks to you Staci 🙂
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Great comment. I love how we can reach out and communicate with people all over the world so easily now. Only 20 years ago it wasn’t so simple. Blogging has been amazing in the fact that I have conversations, am touched and touch others from each continent, with the exception of Antarctica of course.
“there’ll be those who’ll harness technology for good.”
–Big YES here. It is amazing what we can do with recent technology. It truly is shaping and forming more and more of a global culture. And like you said, there are many that use it for bad or immoral things, but we need to take ahold of the times we’re living in and use it to our advantage for good.
Interesting about the TEDx talk. Which one is it? Do you remember the name and the speaker?
” . . . but we need to take ahold of the times we’re living in and use it to our advantage for good.” Roger that!
Details of the talk: Attention, distraction and the war in our brain: Jean-Philippe Lachaux at TEDxEMLYON. Requires patience 😉 Enjoy!
Great. Thanks so much Timi.
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…..and in the spirit of conversations, i might as well mention something I’ve been meaning to say since i came to your site: the cutleries in the background of your picture looks so rad 😀
Thanks Uju. I thought about photoshopping them out . . . Btw, the photo was taken in the kitchen, and I’m supposed to be the girl next door. You know, the girl you can talk to in the kitchen while she’s doing the dishes 🙂
I busied myself for a while with the thought of you combing your hair with a fork…like Ariel the Little Mermaid 😀
. . . and all the while, we chat about nothing! 😀
How soon can you come over?
I’m tempted to just say “hmmmmm” and go away.
So maybe I will 😀
I can talk about nothing. I can have two conversations at a time: one with my companion, and the other with my head….but I prefer the former till I get slightly bored.
I can do without my phone if the circumstances are beyond my control; otherwise I’m still working up the courage to say off social media for a week.
When a person touches his phone during a conversation, or even takes a call especially without excusing himself, I lose the zeal to keep talking.
I talk too much once I’m bothered to start about nothing at all.
So I’ll do the honorable thing and just say…
Lol, the female specie seems to know how to talk about nothing 🙂
@staying off social media, I dunno, I mean social media interaction is valid too. Take this conversation I’m having with you- it is stimulating, and through it, I know you a little better. I also get some feedback on my writing, which is important in achieving my goals 🙂 But I guess we’re mostly referring to the ‘mindless chatter’ on some other platforms . . .
“When a person touches his phone during a conversation, or even takes a call especially without excusing himself, I lose the zeal to keep talking.” That’s it isn’t it? When someone gives us less than his full attention, we feel slighted.
Timi, I agree we Toyin, we do need social media fasts sometimes. A time of quiet and reflection because sometimes, the noise does get a bit much! I just returned from one of such fasts and I think I will do a rinse and repeat every now and then 🙂
Thanks again for another fabulous “sunday sunday tonic”.
“A time of quiet and reflection . . .” true.
I suppose you’re referring to FB, which Toyin was catching up on. Well, your world did not come to an end when you fasted 🙂
I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and WordPress. YouTube, Instagram, and the rest will have to wait. Social media can be a fulltime job. Blogosphere takes up 90% of my social media time- reading & commenting on other blogs and replying to comments on mine. I can’t fast from this as it serves a greater purpose. I guess you feel the same way about your blog?
I can definitely relate- it can feel hard not to succumb to the pull of the internet/social media vortex. One o f my intentions is to do that soon. I slow down more and am more present. Enjoyed your post and conversation w/your friend, TImi!
To slow down and be more present, that’s something I’m working on too. On Sundays, people give up on me! If I publish a post that attracts many comments, nobody can get my full attention 😉
Thanks Diahann for succumbing to the pull and being here 🙂
I can relate, Timi! Posting days are a wash in terms of not being able to do much of anything else before and after. And LOVE comments, esp. the engaged and supportive ones.
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One. You nailed it with talk about Multitasking and multithinking. I believe it’s disrespectful to a person seeking your empathy, your understanding, to give divided attention. I do it. I am learning to break that bad habit. Amen.
Two. It’s terrifying how very dependent one is on social media these days. It extremely distracts from real-world activities and, truth be told, some aspects of my life suffer from this dependency. Sad.
Three. Regular social media fasts are truly necessary. But the weird thing is that social media fasting feels many times like your life is quickly seeping out of you. I had one last week that lasted two days. Two days seemed like a month of absence. Disturbing.
@disrespectful, you’re so right! If this post sensitizes us to make a shift, then it was worth writing it.
“Two days seemed like a month of absence.” 😀 A friend who’s very active on Facebook, fasts one month every year. We’ve come to expect it and a few people are following his lead. Because I blog, total abstinence isn’t an option for me.
Conversations on social media are now a valid part of our lives. Virtual interaction is now a part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs 🙂 Seriously, communication or engagement is a primal need and social media is one way we do this. As with everything in life, boundaries are important. I know you share your writing on various social media channels, so you ‘have’ to be there 🙂
“I sat with my friend Toyin to talk about nothing.”
I don’t know how to talk about nothing. Silence is never awkward to me. Once we don’t have a topic to chat on, I lose focus; my mind drifts and looks for something else to focus on. This is where my phone comes in. There’s always a topic on Twitter, a message on Whatsapp, an essay to read, all wonderful tools in filling silent spaces. I know its a bad habit but I still do it.
Pick a topic for our conversation–any topic–and my phone is dead to me.
I don’t have a problem with social media fasts, but my phone has hiked the price of my attention. When my phone is not there, I don’t miss it because my mind focuses on something else (usually a book).
This is one of my fears: one day, I’ll meet people who know me online and they’ll discover I’m bad at conversations. The art of conversation is not lost to me; I never owned it.
I really enjoyed reading this Timi. Thank you for sharing.
Ife, you’ve made many points that leave me thinking. I guess talking about nothing is moving from topic to topic like a butterfly, but bonding nevertheless. I’ve read that girls find talking important in making connections with friends, while boys focus on activities. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus; you are not alone 😉
” . . . but my phone has hiked the price of my attention.” This is interesting because before the era of smart phones and social media, we still had (mild) attention deficit disorder 🙂 TV, newspapers, books, etc, competed for our attention. Technology just made ‘ADD’ acute!
“The art of conversation is not lost to me; I never owned it.” I like this sentence! If I meet you, I promise to have my list of topics for conversation handy. We can strike them off, one by one, and never have a moment’s pause to look at our phones 😀
You’ve made me think and so, bought my full attention. Thanks man!
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I feel furstrated when in d middle of a convo.. i hear an annoying beep … and the person picks the phone to check without as much as an excuse me. Hey! You just left me hanging
So do I, but I’m guilty as well! It’s so pervasive now, that’s why I had to conclude that giving anyone my full attention is expensive 🙂
Schedule a leave-the-phone-at-home date with your friend. Many a flowing conversation has been disrupted by its participants dropping away to look at text messages and to check this thing or that thing. Even I do it, and I’m not human.
If I have one good quality (that’s a big “if”), it’s that I’m a pretty good conversationist (my word and perhaps my next blog post). I can go back and forth for hours on a subject, gathering opinions and ideas, offering thoughts, exploring what my counterpart thinks and feels about life. I don’t endeavor to “hold court” or lecture, a trait that makes some orators think they are good at having conversations when they’re not.
So there. My good quality.
Depending on your next topic, I am prepared to describe my bad qualities, which are legion.
“Even I do it, and I’m not human.” 😀 I have been guilty of this thing: talking to one person on the phone while chatting with two others on FB, multitasking at its worst, if the goal is to have meaningful conversation. The leave-the-phone-at-home date sounds appealing!
Since you’re such a charming conversationalist, no one will want to look at their phone while talking with you. All what you’ve described, offering thoughts, exploring what your counterpart thinks and feels, etc, involves paying attention in my view. It ‘costs’ something to ‘pay’ attention. Kudos Eric!
We should meet for coffee and conversation if I ever visit your city. You can share your bad qualities then. I’ll bring my phone along, since I know that I won’t be tempted to look at it 🙂
When someone feels compelled to check their smart phone every few minutes (out of curiosity, distraction, boredom, inattention, etc.), I lose interest in continuing to converse with them. 😎
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Your last paragraph is a winner ~ we need to remember that WE are in the driver’s seat and not allow social media to steer our days.
True. Those who have social media addiction have been bumped off the driver’s seat though … 😦
Me too! I stop talking, and when they’re done, 99% of the time, they don’t ask about what I was saying, proving they weren’t listening in the first place. I’m also guilty. Most times it’s because I have zero interest in the conversation, but am compelled to stay. It’s rude and I’m learning how to drum up interest (or at least feign it!).
But this is the trend I’m noticing. I hang out with friends, we have good conversations. When there’s a lull, a comfortable silence, we fill it by checking our phones, etc. And the next thing you know, breaking news on CNN becomes the new topic of conversation 🙂