The Art of Conversation: Alive or Dead?

A lot of people seem to think the art of conversation is (or soon will be) lost. I can’t help but wonder, with all the articles, books, interviews, and experiments about this topic – how can that possibly be true? And are they all talking about the same thing?

Conversation, as defined by The New Collins Concise English Dictionary is: ‘the interchange through speech of information, ideas, etc.’ Under art it also says: ‘a skill governing a particular human activity. E.g. the art of government.’

So as far as I can tell people do still speak aloud to one another, maybe not like they used to, but things change. So conversation is still alive and well. If anyone thinks differently they just need to come round for dinner one day. Or maybe you should just take my word for it: there’s conversation, and it can get pretty crazy. However, we don’t talk over one another, everyone participates, and topics vary hugely. As does the level of laughter. In a different example, I know people who talk online while they game – they’ve never met one another, they live all over the world, but they have actual out-loud conversations. Sometimes they talk more than they play! And they don’t only talk about the game or computers. There’s discussions about politics, technology, work, tv. . . anything and everything basically. And boy can they talk! As for younger generations. . . who knows how much conversation they get at home, but have you ever heard a quiet playground at break or lunchtime? Ever known a child not talk when given opportunity and a bit of encouragement?

So is it the art of it that they’re worried about? But then, what that is specifically is much harder to pin down. Is it, as the dictionary suggests, the ability to do a thing well? To be skilled. In this case, do you know how to start a conversation, how to keep it going, when to speak and when to listen, how to put others at their ease, how to finish. In my book all that’s part of good manners. (Also something said to be in short supply) Or is it what you say, and how you say it, knowing what to do in different social situations?

Whichever you decide, consider this too: all facets of art change; whether you’re talking about art art, dance, pottery, music. . . basically anything creative. What’s actually considered art changes, the methods used, subject matter, materials. And it’s influenced by culture, society, trends and fashions, personal preference, technology. . . Art is a product of its time. What are known now as ‘traditional’ art forms were once the height of fashion, and there are plenty of people out there who rediscover lost techniques, study the work of historic artists, or add a modern twist to old ideas. Maybe the same thing has happened to the art of conversation; it isn’t lost so much as altered to suit the needs and lifestyles of people today.

Of course, there’ll be people who resent that change and moan about it, others who try to do something about it. But it seems to me it isn’t a matter of alive or dead, it’s more. what form has it taken, and what might it change to next.

Just to finish – and because I find it interesting for some strange reason – I’m going to relate this to writing. Writer’s (in case you hadn’t noticed) use words a lot, and the words they choose will often be influenced by current speech. So as well as things like regional accents and old-fashioned language, you get text speak, colloquialisms, abbreviations, emoticons. . . It affects things right the way down to sentence structure, word order, punctuation and paragraphing. They all alter over time. Readers and writers are therefore, in my opinion, some of the most accepting of different forms and styles: you use what suits the work you’re doing and the audience you’re aiming at. As always, there are exceptions to this, and that’s fine too. Progress for progress’ sake, and all that.

Anyway, I think it’s simply taking longer for it to be realised that although people may talk to one another in a different way or for different reasons, there are still certain forms and accepted ways of doing things and therefore, still a level of artistry to conversations.

So, unzip your lips and get talking, because otherwise you might loose the ability according to some people.

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