The Slow Disregard of Meaningful Conversation

The shift to online work has changed conversational style to monologuing

Months since a portion of humankind moved to online work. As someone who works in the content and communications field, the sudden shift has been equal parts satisfying and disappointing.

Satisfying in that I have the privilege and the option to work from home. Disappointing because going outdoors and meeting people is what I love the most about my work.

One thing that hasn’t escaped my notice though is the changing nature of conversations, both in our personal lives and around our workplaces. A casual chat near the pantry, nodding to a fellow who works in the same premises but a different employer, meeting dogs on the street who await my pat all day, are some things that I miss immensely. The comfort of dropping by someone’s house, and someone else dropping into mine, now a distant dream.

There is a certain humour that arises from having conversations face to face. It is a difficult task to maintain such depth, accuracy, and exchange while having conversations online. Visual cues, immediate reactions, and automatic corrections are things we’ve lost. Instead we’re subjected to trail offs, indistinguishable voices, and grating noises.

Yes, this is one lovely thing I found off of Reddit which captures the day to day communication now. Disappointing that the new normal looks very similar to this. As if all the irrational fears of the pandemic are not enough, I’m just here to add one more (sorry).

Technology has facilitated communication across the globe and is one of the most enduring forms given the present circumstance. I’m just worried about the form of conversations online communications have devolved into.

The deep stares of everybody into their screens and a whole lot of them in group views are discomforting and at times rather irritating. As if a bunch of ragdolls or bobbing heads are placed in front of you and are probing every aspect of what you’re saying or not saying. A place where silence becomes a preferred option because you’re more than likely to run over someone else talking, more than likely to have your own words interrupted, and most certainly have your train of thought disrupted.

I am quite used to the online medium given I have been teaching writing courses online for over four years. The gripes of an online classroom like speaking into a void, ability to continue without any facial and tactile feedback, and the lack of response while you’re talking, just the mere sound of the air that determines how you’re doing, are all things I too experienced. But I got over it. There is a certain freedom when you’re teaching. And the relationship between you as a speaker and the others as your students or vice-versa is a different one.

The exchange of the mundane, the discussion of the grandiose, and the possibility of confluence is what made normal conversation so appealing.

Now we’re stuck in this loop where it’s difficult to tell what part of the conversation you’re participating in. A lot of nerves taut and stretched, twitching on the forehead of nervous speakers, where constant freezes and robotic whines from poor connectivity mar what could be good ideas.

Technology has created wonders and all through we’ve invented, augmented, and upgraded technology as enablers. What we never focused on enough was its ability to make us more human. Its value in furnishing the empty rooms of our minds. Its capacity to create divides, misunderstandings, and creative discomfort.

I fear we are losing our ability to meaningfully speak, to espouse empathy, to take the time and the natural scenic course of wordplay and emotive joy of talking face to face. We’re forgetting words, we’re forgetting norms, we are forgetting propriety.

Tumbling down a never-ending spiral, assaulted by static, and an absolute lack of recognition of voices from these simulative machines, we are heading towards meaningless conversation, one Zoom meeting at a time.

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Cyclist, Guitarist, Writer, Editor, Tech and Heavy Metal enthusiast — Jack of many trades, pro in two.

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Ganesh Chakravarthi

Cyclist, Guitarist, Writer, Editor, Tech and Heavy Metal enthusiast — Jack of many trades, pro in two.