“The only reason why we ask other people how their weekend was is so we can tell them about our own weekend.”
-Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Something is to be said about the way texting has created a certain silence or how it has changed the way we ‘talk.’
Conversation was an activity in itself prior to the digital media takeover, when texting became the main means to connect. That is what we do today – “connect,” like Facebook’s motto states, “Connect with all your friends.” Connect, not converse, nor talk or speak. Connect implies a network, a system, a web, all puns on digital media. Yet, what was conversation before digital media?
[Editor’s note: a little ironic isn’t it, since you made fun of the Amish?]
Conversation implied many things, many people, and places. Whether it be conversations in coffeehouses during the 18th century, the rise of salons, or Victorian social mores, where conversation was considered an art and a means to express your social standing, upbringing, and education. What about conversation that lead to telling stories and using conversation as a means for performance? Digital media, with all of its benefits, does silence these things. We don’t necessarily lose conversation, it just happens through a different medium. However, we do lose the immediacy and the physicality. In hearing another person’s voice we can hear the person and gauge their emotion.
What about Skype? True, but many people don’t have Skype. If you do, kudos, but, once again, everything is mediated.
Telephones/iphones/whathaveyou: Better, but it is still mediated.
Letter-writing: Absolutely, but it is still silent.
For the past two years, I have attended poetry slams throughout the GTA and, just recently, two in Peterborough. During a slam, the audiences are alive with conversation on everything poetry. Sharing metaphors is an activity poets often play. You make up a metaphor, they make up a metaphor, and you fit them into your poem if they are good. Poetry is just that: metaphors for life. Poems are conduits for existential angst and slam poets are full of existential angst; the desire to perform this angst on stage, rid themselves of it, and join in with other slam poets in a search for meaning. The desire to make their poems alive through performance.
This is conversation. You can’t walk through a room of poets without striking the most vibrant conversation on just about anything. Everything from the mundane aspects of life to the extra-ordinary is brought up and all seems alive with a literary and musical flair.
Can you ‘text’ a poem: absolutely. I suppose you could exchange poetic text messages, however strange that may be.
However, speaking or performing a poem out loud requires the realization of the words you wrote silently. Your voice and body language has to make the words come alive. Good conversation is like this: it has a velocity and momentum. It probes your thoughts and makes you think. You want to go back to the conversation and revisit your ideas. You want to hear others’ voices. It is the ambiance.
It is easy to understand why coffeehouses were so popular in the 18th century. They provided a space for productive conversation and culture to flourish. Music, theatre, and literary circles were apart of this expanding cultural activity and allowed culture to be networked through people conversing. Culture is an organism, lucid to the changes around it. Music becomes poetry, poetry art, art becomes politics, politics becomes the economy. It is all networked through people.
Texting is connection, like I said. It provides those crucial networks and links, yet the void of space it doesn’t fill is the sound part. The voice, the performance, the ideas – these come from the lived and live (as in the “real, here-and-now”) experience of talking, conversing, and metaphor-making.
What made the culture of England explode and reach the masses was good conversation. In academia, it is a necessity. In the day-to-day, it is not (re: Palahniuk). Congenial, casual conversation is necessary for you to get by and see the day through. Conversation promotes another activity, listening. Listening, not shutting up or remaining congenial and quiet. Conversation wants ideas, but thought-out ideas. Details. Theories. Beliefs. Disagreements are certainly allowed. Conversations take up space, shape that space, and exceed boundaries. It makes the space those who occupy it. It makes the space a body and a person.