The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Art Of Conversation Needs CPR …
June 10, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Back view Rob’s Back

Hi folks, hope you’re all toptastic – of course you are, you haven’t had to put up with my shit for a few weeks.

Well the bad news is I’m back and I am relatively bursting with opinionated rants, however as I mentioned in a post last month, I’m going on a 2 month ‘blog holiday’ soon so you haven’t got too long to put up with my rubbish so hang in there!

I must admit it’s been quite weird not blogging because I’ve got so used to posting something every day for the last 20 months, that stopping meant I suddenly found I had so much more free time, ha!

[Contrary to what many people think, I generally write my ‘musings’ in my own time [I know it might not seem like it – and it’s only advertising – but I do actually have a job to do!] so this new found freedom allowed me to get back to absorbing stuff rather than continually expelling my hot air]

Saying that, freedom of blogging hasn’t been all good – because not only did I miss the people who comment on here so regularly [excluding Andy, George etc, who were in my life more than they have been for years] I found myself having the time, patience and geographical location to even have a pub lunch with Mr John Dodds.


Well, niceish ๐Ÿ™‚

09/06/2008 Dodd’s Lunch. How Inviting!

In all seriousness, one of the best things of the last few weeks has been being able to meet/chat/listen/debate with some of the World’s weird, wonderful and intelligent – and when I say meet/chat/listen/debate, I mean “in the flesh” not just via technology.

One of the things I’ve always prided myself on – and had drummed into me by my parents from a young age – is the power, beauty and value of the ‘conversation’ and yet nowadays, I seem to be more reliant on technology to achieve my aims than making the time to seek people out and get to know them.

Maybe this situation is a byproduct of my physical location … or my work load … or even my age … but this is not how I used to operate and not how I want to operate because whilst technology can help make the World be a smaller place, I also believe it is making our ability to communicate worse than ever.

Ahhhhhh, communication … one of the most overused word since ‘love’, ‘hilarity’ and ‘revolutionary advertising’!

For the last few months I’ve been working on a project on how people converse, and whilst it could be argued that thanks to technology we’re in an age of ‘conversational evolution’ – it seems, at least to me, that we’re becoming more isolated than previous generations.

09/06/2008 The most unscientific chart EVER!

You see whilst email/SMS/blogs/MSN/mobiles [etc] allows us all to talk to those who matter like never before, this ‘continual interaction’ isn’t actually creating deeper relationships … just more superficial ones.

While people all have lots and lots to say, it seems many find it difficult to actually maintain a real conversation.

What tends to happen is people go off on multiple tangents because rather than listen to what the other person is saying, they are just focused on what they want to express, even if it has no relevance to how the conversation has been progressing.

What this means is we get lots of little conversational journeys, but never reach any destination.

Politicians are great at this and thanks to a number of factors [including the way we use technology to communicate … as well as the way technology is created for us to communicate] more and more people are behaving in a similar fashion which could be contributing to the “it’s all about me” syndrome and the increase in violent crimes [because people don’t know how to handle differences of opinion anymore]



OK so I’m probably talking shite, but I bet most of you will relate to at least one of these scenarios …

1/ You get an incoming phonecall from someone you don’t really want to talk to so send it to voicemail

2/ You send an SMS telling people you’re 2 minutes away

3/ You block an MSN contacts because you feel they impose on your time too much

4/ You write a blog but never comment when someone writes a critical comment

5/ You wait till late to call a client so you maximise the chances of it going to voicemail so you can look like you’ve been diligent when the opposite is true

6/ You respond to MSN messages with ‘single word answers’, when in person you would never behave in such a manner

Well, do you?

See, every single one carefully designed to ensure you stay in control of your situation rather than run the risk of encountering an alternaitve view/outcome.

The thing that is interesting is that whilst modern technology allows people to express themselves in a way that can’t be ignored [ie: even though the recipient may only ‘hear’ the words rather than ‘listen’ to them] it is also being used to protect/filter people from individuals they would rather not speak to.

smileys Photo: Alonelyboi

One of the things our research has uncovered is that many people use emote icons [especially on MSN] as a ‘conversational barrier’ rather than a visual representation of what they want to say.

It could be because the person is busy or they simply don’t want to talk to whoever is bothering them – however they use an emote icon because they know the recipient will interpret the character in a way they feel is appropriate to them / their situation, when in reality, the sender didn’t give it’s use/meaning a second thought, they just wanted to be left alone without [1] appearing rude [2] taking up too much time/effort.

It’s the equivalent of nodding to a colleague as you pass them in the corridor …

As I said, this issue could be more prevalent with those old fuckers who remember what it was like to make a phonecall using a telephone with a dial rather than this new generation who can’t work out what the letterbox at home is for – however I still think this is an important issue because humanity survives and thrives when it listens, understands and discusses – and the way the World is going, that’s something we could all do with a bit more of these days.

Years ago British Telecom ran a campaign around the concept of ‘it’s good to talk’.

While their definition of ‘talking’ often ended up being the sort of mundane conversation we now have on MSN, I reckon there’s still alot of potential in that idea though if they were to run it again, I reckon they’d be better off saying ‘it’s good to listen’ because if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up as the most connected bunch of loners in history.

PS: June seems to be the month for birthday’s because not only is it mine on Thursday [HINT HINT] it’s my wife’s on Sunday and my best friends on Monday.

Not only that, but today Will and Seb both celebrate turning another year older. Poor bastards, after years of trying to make sure they had nothing to do with me, their parents moment in the sack ensured there will always be a commonality between us.

Happy birthday boys!

31 Comments so far
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You’re well and truly back aren’t you Robert but it is a little ironic that you, the technology king, is writing about the power of conversation on a blog ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m not sure if your hypothesis about communication technology contributing to issues such as violent crime (I’m assuming you mean things like street violence rather than bank robbery) is correct, but I also know you’re good at this chaos theory connection stuff and if this suggestion appeared in “The Tipping Point” and the like, we’d all be going mad for it.

Comment by Pete

I seem to recall that it was only the volume of pudding that limited your ability to have a real conversation.

Comment by John

i take it robs much better other half wasnt at lunch there then dodds? smartest move campbell has ever made.

i cant be fucking arsed to comment on this post, its too long and ive been living with this project for fucking ages, besides msn lets you say shit youd never say in person which cant be bad except when it is the reason you end up getting divorced.

that bill gates has a lot to fucking answer for

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Pete …

I did say I was probably wrong and even if there is an element of truth in what I suggest, I am not claiming it is the core reason for increased street violence [thanks for clarifying that ๐Ÿ˜‰ ] just a contributing factor.

As for you Mr Dodds …

Well at least I had treacle sponge with custard – a “man’s” pudding whereas you had the dainty chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce.

Why don’t you just read a Mills & Boon novel before going to watch ‘Sex & The City’ to complete your metamorphisis into womanhood!

Comment by Robert

on the subject of conversation progressing, rather than being replaced by a series of things that someone wants to say (the structure of blogging? how often do we revisit the subject of a previous specific blog with new info or ideas?)- LAST NIGHTS CREATIVITY WORKSHOP AT INSEAD…think about how you all expected it to be – then remove the ‘creativity’ and then also remove the ‘work’ – (we obviously weren’t really in a shop). I didn’t learn anything about how to generate ideas, but I did get a fantastic insider view as to how a room full of MBA students ‘brainstorm’. If ever there were a more literal, grab the idea thats right in front of my face, think inside the box (buts its a nice box)’hmmm, not sure of what to suggest so how about we propose outsourcing production to a cheaper country’ – bunch of corporate drones, I have yet to meet them. A visit to the other side of the mirror gents. It absolutely, utterly and completely reaffirmed the necessity of our jobs, otherwise these ‘leaders’ would be making the decisions on their own. And it would be a dark, dark, dark world

Comment by Mr McG

To be honest, what you describe is what most of us thought it would probably be like – which is incredibly depressing – so what if we were to set up a ‘game show’ between MBA people and Ad/Marketing Planners & Creatives so that both sides can demonstrate their ability to create/develop profitable and public adored brands/companies?

We could set a core task and then the suggestions could be evaluated by an independent panel interms of the potential for success – think ‘The Apprentice’ but instead of getting a job with Alan Sugar/Donald Trump, we get a job in an industry that is otherwise losing all cred and value.

[You can tell I’m assuming we’re going to win can’t you, ha! But seriously, whatcha think?]

Comment by Rob

cracking idea – why not make it a 3 way (ooo-er), Planners team Vs MBA team Vs Grizzled/been there done it Client team
so it doesn’t look like we are just out to have a pop at the MBAs.
Lets do it.
I can get the guy from last night to pull together the MBA team. Suggestions please for grizzled clients, I guess the Planning team gets selected by the infallible ‘who is tallest’ test.
We can get Marketing to cover it. Get it sponsored by a few key clients (venue, food & drink – trophy) – get the task set by some legendary industry figure, make the ‘brand’ we are helping develop a charity or other NGO and we build in a altruistic aspect – that gives a good reason for the time/effort spent. Make it an annual event. live webcast covering it.etc,etc, etc
we just need a name for it now..

Comment by Mr McG

Firstly, herzliche Glรผckwunsch zum Geburtstag Seb und Will!!

Secondly, i’ve noticed a change in my conversations since my foray into techno/web twopointsomething stuff. i’ve realised that i interrupt people more often (which shits both of us no end), ‘cos i can carry on a variety of conversations and ideas at the one time: tab browsing has a lot to answer for.
having said that, i’m also a whole lot more direct and succinct than previous generations. i don’t need to manipulate or infer, imply or suggest – i’ve learned that people actually appreciate clarity of communication.

Comment by lauren

OK Mr McG, I’m definitely up for that – and if Marketing don’t cover it, I know a couple of others who would be interested.

Interms of clients, it might be abit more difficult because whilst MBA and Adpeople all think they’re fucking brilliant, many clients – especially Asian clients – wouldn’t want to put themselves in the position of potentially looking bad infront of others/bosses.

Saying that I reckon MTV or Discovery would be up for it – and they’re very lovely and smart – but we can discuss that once we get things going.

And if the planning/creative team is based on physical height, then you’re going to be the natural leader aren’t you, ha!

If there is interest in this – and it’s not just some stupid ego, hair-brained scheme, lets discuss it next week.

Now Ms Lauren …

Are you demonstrating women’s perceived perception of being able to multi-task ๐Ÿ˜‰

In all seriousness this is not about interupting conversations, because if what you are saying is relevant to the topic then of course that’s fine … I’m talking about how people are getting to a point where they never let a conversation reach a natural point of conclusion because they are always “topic hopping” – as demonstrated by your admission you ‘tab browse’ which is different and yet sort-of similar.

[That doesn’t even make sense does it, haha!]

Of course, how we communicate online is bound to be different because of things like environment and technology [etc] though I believe it’s influence interms of ‘bluntness’, ‘openness’ and ‘superficiality’ [to name but a few] has carried over into the ‘real World’ [so to speak]

This is not all bad of course – for example the fact some people are able to express themselves with more clarity than previous generations is a major positive, but that doesn’t excuse the fact thanks to technology, our abilities to truly connect with people may be less powerful than it once was.

Maybe ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob

This is interesting, especially the part of how we use icons in MSN.
No wonder I do not like chatting on MSN / Yahoo!

Comment by bhaskar

Nice post. I think the point about emoticons being substitutes/shields for real emotions is a very valid one.

Oh, and thanks very much for the birthday wishes – and happy birthday Seb! Hope you have a blinding day.

Comment by Will

i never let a conversation reach a natural conclusion because i interrupt with another one. isn’t that relevant to this topic? or didn’t i read it properly?

Comment by lauren

whatever, i’m already over it ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by lauren

lol, great comments Lauren (cheeky) and welcome back Rob!!

I’ll admit I use emoticons in skype like no end, but it’s not because I can’t be arsed communicating, it’s genuinely because they sometimes sum up my emotional reaction to something perfectly. Like the vomit face, or the blank stare, or surprised “OH!”

Comment by Age

What about the Holland versus Italy score?

Oh hang on, I’m changing the subject aren’t I.

What about Gordon Brown?

Fuck I’m doing it again.

Oh well, maybe if I throw in a few ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ˜‰ it’ll be OK.

And stop trying to look a sensitive new age guy AGE – we all know you use emotive icons for evil, ha!

Comment by Rob

Emoticons are the tool of the digital passive aggressive – often used when people want to attack someone but can later point to the smiley and say it was all done tongue in cheek.

Comment by John

Fuck you Dodds ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob

@ Mr. McG Great idea. But to be fair, if you are using INSEAD students, then you have to use government department marketers as the client reps and the retired partner of some 70s DM house for the agency side.

@ Lauren – Had you considered the possibility that it’s a cultural context thing and that your fellow conversationalists just take longer to form their words than in other parts of the world.

Comment by John

Hello blog crowd. First of all thanks for the words of warmness, Rob and happy birthday again to Will, the 10th of June, probably the best day throughout the year. Anyway I bookmarked this blog on the Mac I gave to my mum so she can control us a bit. Now she only has to learn proper English.

Second, I am not sure about that communication theory. I think new technologies provide a better environment for conversation which lead to declining old common ways. Years ago I used the phone a lot. And I liked it. for hours I talked to people. But over the years and now more eminent with skype I hate to talk to people on the phone. I really hate phone calls. Because I got used to see peoples’ face during skype calls and like it much more. I see expressions and don’t only follow their tone of voice. Now I can talk on skype for hours. Because I actually do see and hear people.
So I am not sure about that communication overload thing. I think it’s more like an evolution. We change our ways of communicating and how we use tools. Sure I am short on MSN (except I don’t have it) or SMS, because skype is much better.

But you are absolutely right that you filter out people with these tools. I don’t want to talke to anybody I know on skype. So they have my mail and I am not forced to talk to them instantly.

Hence, I don’t think it’s rude. But in a world that’s turning faster and faster with billions of things to see, read and hear we have to extract the real important bits. Because if we would communicate with everyone and see, read or listen to everything that is provided the sheer mass would make all interactions superficial. So it’s not about being rude but about focussing on the good and deep interactions.

Maybe this doesn’t make sense? Or does it? Don’t know.
And thank you Lauren, my Liebchen. Kรผsschen aus Deutschland.

Comment by Seb

@johndodds. i dunno about that – “fuck you” doesn’t take very long to say.

Comment by lauren

I know what you’re saying Seb but I think you’re using ‘Seb’s circumstances’ rather than a broader view – but then it could be argued I’m doing something similar, ha!

I’m not decrying the power and benefit of technology to communicate – I am simply saying there is an implication that it can control us [ie: how we communicate] as much as how we can control it.

And the video conference element of SKYPE is brill – without it I’d not be able to see my Mum except when I’m in Blighty – however I bet that you don’t use the video-conference facility on your mobile phone [if you have it] and you wouldn’t be alone because the great ‘selling point’ of 3G just didn’t take off because as much as people like to see the people they care about when chatting, they also like the idea they can choose when that happens rather than be in the hands of other people’s whims.

What the fuck am I talking about? More examples of people not being able to hold down a conversation these days …

And Lauren – remember English isn’t spoken by everyone so “FUCK YOU” [as you so nicely put it] could be a long phrase if written in an alternative language. Maybe.

Sorry, I’m touchy today, probably because I got told by a client that I was “in an unpleasant mood at the moment”. How nice. Bastard.

Comment by Rob

It’s interesting to note how many people (regardless of age) are amazed to learn that some of us take online conversations/friendships offline in order to enrich and solidify them. Heck I even endured a lunch recently on that basis. I’m not sure it’s a digital thing rather than an attitudinal one – it’s easier than before to find interesting and egalitarian conversation out there and to join in regardless of any hierarchical bullshit but equally it’s no less difficult to take them offline and into “real-life” than before. Some people are interested and inquisitive and realise that will enrich what follows , others – perhaps the majority – are happy to sit on their arses and say that they’re too busy and that constant communication is a burden rather than a boon.

Comment by John

What if the constant conversation comes from me John – do you still feel the same?

Thought not ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by Rob

rob, i’m not going to point out that i said happy birthday to seb and will in german (which means i’m not anglo-centric, even if i may be euro centric), because you are touchy today and you might bite my head off.

instead, i’m going to say this to your client: you want rob to be unpleasant otherwise he doesn’t give a shit. so back the fuck off.

Comment by lauren

๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by lauren

Heck, I think today’s a testament to how heartening constant communication can be. My phone’s been constantly going off, there’s been a lot of nice Facebook and Twitter messages, and this blog post.

Comment by Will

Yes Lauren you spoke in Kraut … and while that doesn’t mean you’re monolinguistic, it also doesn’t mean you are a global communicator ๐Ÿ™‚

Mind you it could be worse, I once met a Yank who said he spoke American and English and to this day I am not sure if he was joking.

God I’m pissy today, I’m going home to kick the cat … ๐Ÿ™‚

PS: Ironically the client who told me I was unpleasant meant it as a compliment. No, I can’t work out how that works either.

Comment by Robert

I like it when you are unpleasant.

Comment by Seb

jesus! go home, have a cup of tea.

Comment by lauren

id rather speak english and kraut than english and fucking planner wank campbell, now leave lauren alone and be a miserable fuck at home.

i do like your feisty spirit though, just like the old times when you were talented and hungry. like to think i had some influence in bringing that back out of you but i doubt youll give me the satisfaction of credit will you, you mean motherfucker ๐Ÿ™‚

Comment by andy@cynic

[…] Years and years ago, we did a study on the ‘art of conversation’ at Google and it definitely backed up this view. […]

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