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  • Writer's pictureTrish Beauchamp

Giving attention to conversation

Growing up in a farming community, our family had a party line phone - a system where several subscribers were connected to the same landline. Each household had its individual ring to alert who was to answer.

It was the only telecommunication available (I’m revealing my age, here) and phone conversations required an investment of time and patience. The length of the attached cord to the wall qualified how private your conversation was, or what other tasks you could achieve whilst balancing the handpiece under your chin.

As I’m typing this, I’m aware my mobile phone is at hand, alerting me to notifications. Each individual ring sound identifies the source of incoming data for me to attend to. It’s like being subscribed to a party line system again, with me having to answer all phone rings! I’m grateful for the mute switch option.

Have we improved the quality of human connection with ongoing developments in technology?

There will always be conflicting views and research on this question.

MIT Professor Sherry Turkle explores how mobile communication impacts social behaviour. In her book ‘Alone Together’ she documents her concerns that technology actually makes us feel more isolated when it promised to make us feel more connected. Her studies also reveal that in social situations, when phone notifications are attended to, the quality of conversation is compromised. Constant interruptions of phone alerts decrease the level of connection that people feel toward each other.

COVID lockdowns restricted physical interaction with others and zoom, video, and phone call conversations became the norm. Ironically, some people expressed having increased meaningful communication with others during those months. Attention was given to the shared unfamiliarity of experiencing a global pandemic, and a mutual need for connecting with others. The mobile phone became the tool it was designed to be - the ability to communicate and engage in a conversation with any number of people at any time, anywhere a network signal is available.

However, because a phone is but one tool for communication, how we use it will determine its value and usefulness. Like any tool, we can master the tool or it can master us.

Giving attention to conversation … what does that mean for you? Trish



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