Nov 122015
  • Isn’t communication more efficient through email, text messaging, voice mail and automated phone systems?
  • In our technological age, aren’t we wasting time by speaking to one another?

While email, text messages and social media have broken down barriers of geography and time, they have created an illusion that face-to-face communication has lost relevance.  As a global society, we run the risk of losing the skills to articulate our thoughts in spoken language if we place greater importance on technology over verbal interaction.

In the 21st century, the value of the spoken word, both for information as well as a learning tool, has been eclipsed by various forms of technology.  The need to speak to another person, to gather information and to learn, seems to have taken a back seat to the concept of efficiency.

In his excellent book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, Fareed Zakaria speaks about “a related method of learning through the ages… pure conversation.”  He quotes A. Whitney Griswold, former president of Yale: ‘Conversation is the oldest form of instruction of the human race… a great creative art.’

Zakaria adds the words of the scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: ‘outside of the book-knowledge which is necessary to our professional training, I think I got most of my development from the good conversation to which I have always had the luck to have access.’

Throughout the history of the United States, as well as well as abroad, coffee houses, taverns, even sewing circles have provided a venue for conversation and debate.  Would the United States exist without the word-of-mouth news and exchanges that encouraged revolution?  The verbal skills to express oneself, argue beliefs and present a personal point of view remain critical tools for everyone.

Many individuals contact me for speech coaching because they lack the skills and confidence to create a verbal statement of their work or their personal views.  Successful professional and social interaction continues to be a mainstay of our modern society.  Whether interviewing for college, a  job, even meeting new people, the ability to converse smoothly still counts.

But without practice by actually speaking to one another, these skills may not  develop or reach a higher level  of sophistication.  While contracting information into 140 character text messages–sound bites with abbreviations–may be efficient, we should not devalue the long history of personal, spoken interaction.  The ability to tell a story and to verbalize one’s thoughts remains a skill that still has relevance and importance in our technologically-driven society.  What we perceive as mere conversation can provide the means for significant learning and personal enrichment.


Check back soon for more articles on communication, speech pathology, writing and cognitive function.

  3 Responses to “The Art of Conversation”

  1. Great article. You are so right. The debates also show the difficulty of having a coherent and logical conversation. The face-to-face is also underestimated in our school system.

  2. Great article. You are so right. The debates also show the difficulty of having a coherent and logical conversation. The face-to-face is also underestimated in our school system.

    • Thanks, Rob. You make two excellent points: the debates reflect poorly developed speaking skills and highlight the lack of preparation for speaking in our schools (and colleges.) What happened to public speaking classes? Speech skills may not be easily assessed on standardized tests but it’s an important personal and professional ability.

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