Conversation on the web is dying.

TED  “conversations” aim to spread ideas, those worth spreading at least, but are internet conversations real?

Perhaps my most favourite pastime is conversing with intelligent friends about serious matters of mutual concern – we keep a sense of humour but at the same time explore topics that profoundly effect our lives. Better still are those chance conversations with people we meet unexpectedly. These can throw open entire new ways of thinking, provide fascinating tit-bits of information and give perspectives on events that are both novel and illuminating.

The internet offers the promise of widening our networks to bring us meaningful encounters and pertinent conversations. “TED Conversations” appear to provide a forum for just such exchanges. But do they?

I followed with great anticipation a number of conversations on topics dear to my heart – only to find disappointment. The reality is nothing akin to what most of us would consider to be a genuine opportunity to converse.

How can you discuss something with several thousand people? How can you have a conversation that stretches over months, if not years? In kindness we can say that

  • significant points are made with considerable frequency
  • responses are given to particular views
  • there is often general applicability
  • rarely are personal beefs and gripes displayed

BUT these positive features come in two shapes: the first of these is to state an essentially indisputable generalisation. If an individual opinion is propounded – then it tends to be proffered alongside a careful balance of alternative views.

The second is the offering of a personal, psychological or spiritual insight. These generate responses in others of: “me too” or descriptions of additional personal experiences.

In no way do either of these two formats add up to meaningful conversations.

Conversations of course CAN occur without a face-to-face encounter. When two scholars discuss a particular puzzle which preoccupies them both – then an email or letter exchange can be alive, probing and efficient. Two friends who know each other well can converse and discuss via email.

So what do TED conversations actually offer? It seems they make a mockery of true conversation. True conversation occurs in a small group of participants who listen to each other in real time, consider what has been said and respond in a manner such that the discourse moves on to explore issues and to enlighten. In this way our thinking and understanding evolves.

None-the-less I conclude that whilst the web is killing off conversation, it is at the same time awakening the desire for broad and varied real-time conversation with an ever-widening circle of people. The fact that the web is failing at present does not mean that our desire to converse has faded, rather it has stimulated the wish to communicate more widely and more authentically.

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About veritytraveller

My professional personal website is www.veritygoitein.info This blog is a more personal set of reflections on life and art, art and life.
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