I did not watch the Oscars last night. Which is something of a rarity. Rather, I spoke on the phone with an old friend who rang me up out of the blue. We talked through nearly the entire show. And, I can say that I did not miss the award show one bit.
As most of my friends who call or speak with me on the phone know, I love to talk, at length, about anything and everything – from politics to personal life – and some conversations are marathons.
Because of that, I have a good number of old and new friends who seek me out for just that: long, very specific, multiple-topic, gregarious, nostalgic, personal, emotional, intellectual, political, spiritual, goofy conversations, and / or just plain old chat-chat.
Our long conversations are a throwback to the days when we’d meet at the pub, sit down over a pint (or two or three) and eat some food and just talk about our lives, the world in general, politics, music, cinema.
Today, the 138 year-old phone allows us to have those conversations when we live variously in NY and Fort Collins, or in different boroughs of the city, or upstate and the city or NYC and Omaha. We do “talk” regularly via social media, but it’s just not the same. It is sorely lacking.
It occurred to me how under-appreciated the phone is these days. It really is superior to all the social media. As fun and great looking and immediate as social media is, it lacks something integral and very important. Conversations on the telephone function as a true dialectic. The written word of social media is inferior to speaking when creating a dialectic, because writing interferes with the back-and-forth, as emotional context, and intellectual context are removed with the use of the written word.
For example, how many times have you misread someone’s intent as being serious when they were being sarcastic? It happens repeatedly in a written discussion, especially one that is online. It is why so many of the discussions on the internet bounce around in a pointless loop. It’s why “trolling” – the act of deliberately inserting emotional wedge issues and diversion into a conversation – is so popular and works so well on the web. If you were in a bar, and tried to “troll” a face-to-face conversation, you would more than likely get punched in the face.
The use of anonymity on the web also fosters a certain level of hubris. Even when people aren’t anonymous, they feel empowered to say things online that they would not actually speak aloud in person. Physical presence and an actual dialectic have a strong role to play in our lives. The emotional and intellectual impact within a conversation remain intact in a face-to-face or a phone conversation. Hubris and sarcasm and all the rest come into play, but it’s more directly understood and dealt with as such immediately. It trumps social media in that regard.
In the end, engaging a dialectic properly (and often), means that a conversation will yield ideas, and solutions. A deeper emotional connection between two (or more) people will develop. Some discussions are actually meant to last a life time. If we practice them properly.
To the ancient Greek Sophists, the dialectic, the discussion, was an art form. It was the practice they taught to achieve higher truths. And, through those higher truths, lay peace, happiness and community. It’s something we’ve lost along the way, and should endeavor to re-establish and nurture.
The lesson for me is that, like my friends, I have remembered that simply picking up the phone to talk is important and valuable. The telephone is old technology, but it’s still the best if you want to have a conversation that breathes, and grows and adds to your life.