Grieving loss of conversation

Everyday I’m struck by how our world has changed in the past 5 years.

While waiting for my drink at Jamba Juice during my work break today and saw a professional colleague- we met eyes and nodded/smiled and said hi- then his face was into his phone. At that moment I didn’t feel ignored but a great sense of loss at how life used to be so pleasant connecting with people. I’m a conversationalist by nature, and realizing a generation may never experience the pleasure of meeting people by reading social cues and responding to people around us- yes talking to people we don’t know at all can be really fun. And you know what?? sometimes a smile at a stranger or listening to a frustration of a fellow human being in a grocery line is all someone needs to take a deep breath and laugh. But alone we cannot have a conversation…


As a rural dweller, I notice this much more when I head into larger urban areas, and perhaps this has always been there to a degree with people busying themselves with books, music, gadgets etc. However, I do ‘feel’ that more and more I see present absence and an instinctive reach for phones whenever people are alone (or even just a pause) - none more so than on trains where I did used to get into quiet a lot of random conversations, but now it’s eyes down, phone out. Whilst reading and writing takes focus, I find (without supporting evidence) that it doesn’t have quite the same impact of distraction. There are responses now of cafes moving from free wifi, to wifi free, and places with no phone signs to encourage conversation and an atmosphere.


@Jon writing does take more mental processing so you are right there. & That would be refreshing to have a WiFi free zone, do you know of a list. Some people enjoy not talking to anyone which is fine, but now EVERYONE is on their phone- like a compulsive habit.

I remember what it was like to strike up small talk etc… But I’m slowly forgetting living in this extremely tech heavy community. Using technology for a tool is ok, but it’s taken the place of mingling and socializing. And it’s created isolation, which is another post…

Life may never be the same again and it’s very sad. I know life changes but, I never dreamed the loss of human connection would happen. Sad sad sad…

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It’s shame, because…

“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them and engage them in new trains of thought. A conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards. Conversation can change the way we see the world, and even change the world.” - Theodore Zeldin


I agree with everything you said.

It happens to me often, more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes I get the perception that everyone goes on their lives on automatic; folks my age in particular (the 20’s). Because of my work, I spend most of the time connecting with people way older than me, which has allowed me to learn from their habits, behaviors, and social skills. It surprises me how badly young professionals communicate, and how difficult is for them to have proper conversations. The most worrisome thing is that not many people try to change this, and those who do are a minority. That’s why I joined this forum.

I think society today doesn’t even realize how much time we devote to electronic devices and digital platforms, compromising great opportunities to interact and learn from other people. Hopefully, this will change soon (thanks to initiatives like this one) so we can find a balance between the digital world and life itself.


Well said, Kevin. I’m glad you have the opportunity to talk with people “way older.” I am older than most of the people in this forum and therefore find many generational differences between them and me. Keep talking to older people. You’ll find much wisdom and compassion in them.


Continuing the discussion from Grieving loss of conversation:

A question is revealed… what did you do? Why didn’t you engage your colleague in conversation? There used to be cards we developed for literacy games for young children, they were called “conversations starters”
maybe we need to design a deck for such instances as you describe… we can introduce into our public discourse ways, terms… methods… a new slang to invite and engage people into conversation… no need to go to the extent of designing a secret handshake as “someone who speaks with fellow humans” … but we can change this mode of (or lack thereof) of discourse

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I’m assuming you meant what “do” you do, I didn’t do anything;)

Well, I usually don’t give out potentially personal information online when directly asked- but in any break room or other place if people were reading a book I wouldn’t interrupt. & if a person was avoiding eye contact any other way it would be inappropriate to demand that person’s attention. Social contact is a free will experience- not sure if this is what you meant.

It’s the loss of conversational culture, getting to know people by chance in elevators. We are social animals and need real social contact because it’s much more than the “thought that counts”.


Conversation is truly an art form that is slowly degenerating. You make some great points. So much of society’s focus is on technological advancement that many of us are not realizing what the negative side effects of this are. As we push more energy towards one thing, the other gets less energy, that being conversation.

In my work, I aim to cultivate genuine human relationships as well as effective communication and listening through theater and performance practices. It’s a shame that theater, as well as other arts programs, are often the first cut in educational systems. It doesn’t make sense; theater teaches us fundamental skills in relationships that help us in any field, whether that be business, politics, or medicine.

It’s great we have a community like this to be able to work towards fixing this issue. Otherwise, it would just become worse.


I couldn’t agree more! I’m riding the metro and the tram quite often (Vienna, Austria is spoiled with an excellent public transport network). I’ve noticed that more and more people are ‘absent’. It’s just bodies riding the train but no one is home. It’s like in a bad Zombie movie.
I also have dog. She is actually able to get people’s attention, to draw them back into their bodies and into the here and now. They cuddle here, we exchange a few words, we all smile.

We are so used to being absent, to not living in our bodies but in our thoughts and ideas and imaginations.

This urge and longing to avoid the present I think is what tech is playing upon and drawing from. Although here and now is the only real place (and as I think quite exciting and fulfilling if we dare to be here and are senitive enough to all that is here) we seem to deeply believe that ‘here’ is not enough. Thought overrules the present. That’s what tech monitizes. Well, my 2 cents :blush:


Theater and perfomances play through and with the body, you have to be present and here to play; I think that’s part of the magic of theater - the people on stage are present and this presence also changes the audience; after all our bodies talk to each other;
What is is that you’re doing PatMc? It sounds intriguing and as if we share the same passion :slight_smile:

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Ha ha, yes I agree on the train experience, actually sometimes guilty myself :slight_smile:

I know a great designer/artist, Manon van Hoeckel, who specializes in engaging people in real-life conversation.

She designed a real cool concept, called the Luisterruit (Listening Window) which is installed in several Dutch trains, where travellers can tune into podcasts that are designed to make them aware of their companion travellers, e.g. start a flirt, but also notice the landscape, watch the clouds, etc. Its really entertaining and sometimes hilarious :laughing:
Its all in Dutch infortunately, but here is the link:


Sounds cool! (When I read very slowly I can understand a bit (it is after all close to German, although I know people don’t like to hear that :wink: ) )
Then again, isn’t it weird that we use apps and installation to remind us on behaviour that we already had and sort of lost/forgot through apps …

And here I go again, too quick for … whom again? “You’re replying too quickly. Please wait 26 seconds before trying again.”

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Hi Madhu,

I do one-on-one coaching with individuals to improve skills ranging from active listening and effective communication, to interview and presentation skills. My methods are rooted in theater and performance techniques. I also coach on become more focused and present in a digital age, with never ending distractions around us.

I’m in the process of reaching out to schools and businesses regarding workshops and seminars/presentations. It is an exciting journey and people have been very receptive so far! Feel free to learn more at! :slight_smile: Or message me personally if you want to discuss more.

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You hit the nail on the head. Human beings cannot have genuine satisfaction when living in an isolated, consumerist mode.

On my end, I am trying to contribute to restoring the art of dialogue through a community-oriented project that gives people an opportunity to have a dialogue without the pressure of winning of the fear of losing the debate. If you want to talk and maybe collaborate in any way, please let me know. I would love to!

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Interesting read reminding me of the original post here:

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I’m not sure if this is the right topic for me to post this under, but I’ll start here. Reflecting on the loss of conversation I’ve been thinking about how much software and hardware is reinforcing a conception of individuality that isolates the person in the present, and increasingly connects to filter bubbles and what researchers call ‘homophilic’ social networks (birds of a feather, flock together). This can lead to reinforcement of views, identity, confirmation bias, echo chambers and so on. A deepening but narrowing of our worlds.

Occasionally technologists address this, some more successfully (as seen on this forum), but others crack the nut with a sledgehammer (IMO) by trying to use apps, algorithms and platforms and the like to introduce, say, an element of randomisation into products or another constructed and coordinated meet-up governed by messaging . This seems to me to be using technology sometimes for technology’s sake, and this is where I return to the loss of conversation - i miss spontaneity and serendipity, which technology was supposed to facilitate. Urban areas have grown and prospered, as indeed has my own sector of research, through serendipitous exchange, challenging of views, mixing of backgrounds and perspectives. I believe, but cannot state empirically, that random conversations, or basic public dialogue with fellow humans, help us grow, connect and place ourselves as well as learn. That’s what I fear I will grieve most.


I see what you are saying Jon. This is a mixed bag of loss in general. Kids are getting funneled in to researching things on google only to find out they are not really researching with data mining picking things out for you. Computers are really taking over the human mind. In response to this I’m slowly startkng to not support businesses that do this- if I feel “creeped” out by my phone thinking for me or knowing me too much I find out how it happened and put a stop. Only problem is the maps- my phone knowing where I’m going etc… and that is another topic. Anyways… I think you discovered a new topic here- start it so this important beginning discussion on “tunneling” won’t be buried and lost in this one- This is exactly how ideas are developed on forums, so your idea really isn’t off topic- it just deserves its own space.

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thanks @healthyswimmer, I will do as you suggest. What’s the best word for encapsulating it? Tunneling as you say, or filtering, narrowing? It’s also, as you point out, about technology diminishing our role (hollowing out our abilities, was that Carr who wrote about it?). This is often supposedly to allow us more time to do other things (what?) by outsourcing cognitive and physical tasks (see the new Google natural voice AI feature to call people on your behalf), but also offering less actual control and transparency with our devices and software. A sort of marginilisation perhaps. I’ll try to separate out these elements to write something a bit more focused on the former issues of the narrowing.

“We are losing our minds to homophilic/tunneling…”

Really any phrase that states what you are thinking will start the thread and things will develop- then you can change the title with an edit.

We need to start a glossary of terms to explain this experience of technology heavy experience. Defining such terms will alleviate some of the tech bash talk.

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