I’m on day four of the Infomagical challenge. The goal of Infomagical is to decrease the amount of space technology and information take up in our lives and in our brains. I’m not going to go into great detail on Infomagical. If you want to learn more, you can visit project.wnyc.org/infomagical.
I decided to participate in this challenge because I have been feeling an ever-increasing frustration over the past few months, maybe years, about the fact that communication between actual human beings has so quickly dwindled. We have gone from face to face conversations to email to text messages. Sending a business-related text message would have been unheard of less than a decade ago when cell phone providers charged per text or many plans had a limit on the number of texts before exorbitant charges kicked in. Recently, I have been receiving texts from employees, contractors, even my daughter’s music teacher.
I’m old enough to remember the rules of telephone etiquette. My parents taught me how to answer a phone, how to politely make a phone call, and how to speak to a friend’s parents when requesting to talk to their child. Those were scary things to learn. I remember dialing the phone and fiercely hoping that my friend would be the one to answer so I could avoid those awkward moments of polite conversation with their parents. Now many homes don’t even have a land line. When we make a call, we know exactly who is going to answer. If the phone rings, and we don’t feel like talking, we can send the call to voicemail with a quick push of the button and listen to it later. We can even avoid a return call by responding with a text.
Even though making a phone call has become much easier than it once was, there has been a distinct trend away from even this minimal personal interaction. Imagine a stereotypical teenager from a decade ago. Hours of free time were spent on the phone calling one friend after another. Or even, heaven forbid, walking down the street and knocking on their friend’s door. Fast forward to today. Hours are spent messaging. Typing, on social media or through texts, has replaced real-time communication. Even the simplest of social exchanges are curated, edited, and abbreviated.
Today’s Infomagical challenge was to have a face-to-face conversation with another human being for at least seven minutes. I decided to exclude family members. In our home, we actually do talk to each other….all the time.
I encounter many people throughout the day, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone that lasted over seven minutes. Note: I do a lot of talking TO people, but I do not have a great deal of give and take conversations with anyone beyond my family. I talk to people, conduct my business, and move on. I’m on to the next thing before I have allowed the time to process the first thing. No wonder I often feel harried and stressed out. What I had considered my ultra-efficient, businesslike manner may actually be undermining many areas in my life. Could slowing down to communicate with those around me improve my life? I was intrigued!
I thought about this as I drove to the office. The idea of having a real conversation felt awkward. I envisioned the shuffling of feet at the very least and worse case scenario, I was afraid of freaking people out.
I had my first conversation of the day within the first five minutes of work with a young man who had called off work yesterday, because he had an audition in Chicago. Normally, I wouldn’t inquire about his personal business. Instead of a brusque “good morning,” I stopped him on the stairs to ask him how things had gone with his audition. He was more than happy to tell me all about it. He had auditioned for a role in a network TV show! He went on to tell me that it had gone really well. In fact, I learned that he had been an extra on an earlier episode of the same show, and it had aired a few weeks earlier. Later in the day, he stopped by my office to show me pictures from the filming. I told him I would watch the episode this weekend and that I’d keep my fingers crossed that he gets a recurring role.
I felt psyched after this first conversation. It hadn’t been difficult at all, and it hadn’t taken up too much of my “valuable” work time. It had been easy, and it had created a sense of goodwill. What was unexpected were the peripheral benefits. Other people had been nearby during the conversation, and their moods seemed to have been lighted as well. It felt almost festive. How could a simple, brief conversation completely change the workplace environment? I wanted to do this again!
I spent my day consciously connecting with people, and it was amazingly rewarding. I had multiple conversations with people, all of them meeting my seven minute criteria. While I wouldn’t say that it was difficult, it did require a certain level of purposefulness. I had to remember to slow down and allow the flow of conversation to develop. I had to listen and engage with the present instead of rushing off to the next thing on my agenda. More importantly, I stood up and got out from behind my computer. I sat my phone down.
This seven-minute challenge is such an easy concept, but it made me realize that real, human in depth conversation is something that had been missing from my life. While I enjoy plentiful conversation with my family, today I realized that family-only conversation is insulating, safe, and limiting. While I am extraordinarily grateful for the blessing (and noise!) of my family, today I enjoyed pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and dropping my mask of professionalism to have a few simple conversations with the other people in my day.