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Want to Change the World? Call a Meeting
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Want to Change the World? Call a Meeting

Most pivotal moments in history start with a conversation, not a retweet.

This article originally appeared at Comment magazine on September 26, 2012.

Great conversation bears forth ideas. And really good ideas have the potential to become the convictions that transform nations. Discussions on the human need for face-to-face conversation in an internet age abound. A recent article in TheNew York Times argued that online conversation can never replace real conversation. One 16-year-old boy interviewed said, "Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I'd like to learn how to have a conversation."

Real conversation uses different skills than online communication. It requires the participants to have patience with each other, and to reveal more of themselves than they would online. We dumb ourselves down in online conversation. We depend on sound bites. We expect responses faster and are more likely to relay only the polished version of what we are truly experiencing. Though social media consistently requests status updates, rarely does it require us to post anything of depth. "So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection. . . . Self-reflection requires trust. It's hard to do anything with 3,000 Facebook friends except connect."

But the art of conversation in an internet age has more to lose than just the human need for interaction and connectedness. We stand at great risk of losing reflection and political debate for the sake of easier online lobbying. I work in communications for International Justice Mission Canada, and am a strong advocate for the power of social media. "Clicktivism" has its place. Clicktivism: the new phenomenon where support for an initiative is shown by the click of a "Like" button, a Re-Tweet, or a "Share." It raises awareness, engages individuals in a cause they may never have encountered in any other venue (the phenomenon of viral videos is evidence enough that new ideas can spread like wildfire if done well). But whether "Clicktivism" translates into action (or conversation) at a deeper level with colleagues and friends is anyone's guess. A lot of people are guessing.

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Displaying 1–2 of 2 comments

Pal Madden

November 06, 2012  9:06am

Interesting that the IC, (Inst. church), is centered around a one way lecture from pulpit to pew. There is no interaction, Q and A, CONVERSATION, or impact left on those sitting in rows of noses looking into the back of strangers' heads forgetting what they hear before they get home. Which is exactly why the early church had the success and impact it did before it sold out, and became centralized under a secularized church system. Although illiterate and poor they circled up face to face, conversed openly, were transparent, and on their way to discipling the nations, and transforming the culture. Then, Constantine stepped in, professionalized church leadership, placed all power into the hands of a few, and the church morphed into a spiritual welfare system where everything is left to the 'professionals'. It's centered around a Simon Says dog and pony show in an edifice that sits empty 164 hours a week. It's a Cuckoo's Nest driven by the Tyranny of the Status Quo.

Howard Freeman

November 05, 2012  3:52pm

Thanks so much, Petra, for a wonderful article. I plan to have my two oldest sons read it since they fall into the camp of 140-characters-is-enough-for-now-thank-you. My youngest son, age 9, is a wonderful conversationalist, and I always enjoy taking him out to dine with. I'm told that Richard Sennett, in his book The Fall of Public Man (which I'm reading now), discusses the role of the coffeehouse in 18th century France and how public discourse there led to developing the ideas around the French revolution. Looking forward to learning what truth there is in this.

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