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The Lost Art of Communication in the Digital Age: How to Make Space for Real Conversation

4min read
Culture

I've spent most of my time on this planet all wrapped up in the wonders of the human voice, so it's probably no surprise that I resisted digital technology in a big way. I was what you might call a very late adopter, a laggard, and at times a militant rebel, against all things digital. While practically everyone around me jumped on the technology train with glee years ago, I had no trouble curbing my enthusiasm back then. It wasn't merely because I am technologically challenged in general, or quite a latecomer to typing, which I forced myself to finally learn only recently when I was writing my memoir, "Finding the Bunny" (Voice Haven Productions, 2018; optioned by Warner Bros. for development into a television series, 2019).


My longstanding "digital disdain" mostly can be traced back to my unwavering loyalty to the spoken word as the ultimate connector of people, both as sender (speaker) and receiver (listener). Over my lifetime, I have revered all that the human voice can do to impart meaning and authenticity, emotion and truth, individuality and intention. I revel in the "perfect imperfections" within each of us, as expressed through the voices that help make us who we are and give us a unique passport as citizens of the world. Understanding these deceptively simple truths is what separates the good voice actors from the great ones.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the saying, "The eyes are a window to the soul," I further suggest that the voice grants access to an individual's inner being as well. So the touch of your fingertips on your mobile device, even with a full array of emojis and trending GIFs at hand, can't even come close to conveying all the really "good stuff" that we as people have to offer.

Yes, I am biased. Since I was a teenager, I've made a living using my voice, learning to master all of the characteristics, colors and nuances as a voice actor.

For more than three decades following my early career, I've been passionately teaching others how to harness the power and authenticity that lies within the vocal tract. I love helping people discover how to find their true voices in art and in life…and trust me, that cannot be accessed through texting!

Granted, it's my profession as a voice actor and an educator, but it's also how I choose to move in the world as a human being—by talking to people and listening carefully to what they have to say and how they say it.

I am fiercely protective over the singular role and value of our true voices as a way of authentically expressing ourselves and connecting with others in a way that a digital exchange just can't match. Ever.

The reality is, the two-way process of communicating with others through conversation is an art form, and a dying one at that, due largely to the overshadowing presence of our devices constantly within reach, glance or earshot, all too often serving as a handy little substitute for real interpersonal communication.

It grieves me to no end to see how far we've drifted from real conversation, let alone artful conversation, at a time when people are more likely than not to shoot out a rapid-fire series of texts or an emoji explosion for all kinds of interactions—from mundane exchanges to a friendly touch-base or happy birthday wishes, playful teasing, petty or recurring arguments, or even sharing news, joys or sorrows over major life events.

Through all this, we are getting out of practice playing conversational catch, and we are picking up new (and not-so-good) habits that derive from our modern-day tools. Those little digital devils can lure us into communicating with people in a way that doesn't necessarily reflect who we really are or what we are really thinking. Where's that telling tone of voice? What about the all-revealing vocal inflection and cadences and breathing patterns that reveal so much about where someone is coming from? When communicating through keystrokes, we can miss a whole lot, and we may be getting a distorted picture with words that would never be fired out in such a manner in person or on the phone.

We can hide behind our technology, and get a false sense of security from it. Knowingly or not, our digital exchanges with others may become a click too curt or clever, inauthentic, glib, cavalier, silly, falsely intimate, and so on. Many a text or email exchange would probably not happen the way they actually did if people sat face-to-face, looking at each other in the eye in person or virtually, or listening intently through the phone.

Don't get me wrong; it's not all bad. I certainly appreciate the ease, convenience and freedom that technology can give us. There is a time and a place for a quickie digital touchpoint, no doubt. In our busy, mobile and often-overcommitted lives, having tech that helps you live your life is, for the most part, fantastic. I've certainly come around to recognize when the situation calls for an e-response and when it calls for a "me-response." Part of the dance is knowing what to use, and when.

All that said, our now-pervasive digital communications culture seems to have hampered the collective ability to hold a sustained real conversation, whether it's face-to-face or on the telephone, or virtually through video conferencing. A natural give-and take conversation happening in real time, seems to have become a memorable or special exception rather than the rule. And this does not just apply to digital natives who have only known electronic communications as a way of daily life. Now people of all ages and stages of life are part of a new tapestry that reveals how much we have changed in the way we interact with one another on an everyday basis.

With our smart devices well in hand, we can easily edit ourselves to present a carefully constructed communique, that perfectly created response which may have been tweaked a few times before hitting send on the email or text or social media post. As we all know, you can't edit yourself like that when you are conversing with someone face-to-face at a coffee house or on a walk or on the telephone or in a conference room. In real life, in real time, you get to be yourself, you have to be yourself, otherwise it will be detected, and people will react genuinely to what's in front of them. Ironically, in the end, we will be better off because of the realness of it all, because we can then become more aware of ourselves and others, more sensitive, more careful, more thoughtful, more fully human. We are somewhat shielded from this key process when we opt out of real-time conversation.

So, for those who feel the negative effects of technology, and feel conversationally short-changed, what can be done?

Here are three ideas to consider:

  1. Make space for real conversation. Set aside time every day for real conversations without a digital device within reach or earshot (in fact, keep your device turned off and put away for best results). Stay present in that conversation as a good communications partner, both as giver and receiver. Savor the experience, and do it more regularly and with more people in your life.
  2. Choose the right communications medium for the job. Next time you need to communicate a message to a family member, friend, co-worker, acquaintance, or someone else in your life, ask yourself, what's the best communications medium for this job? Would a phone call be more effective than a text? Is an in-person exchange more appropriate for this situation? Can a text convey the full measure of what needs to be said? Choose the right medium for delivering your message with care and precision. Your choice may depend upon the person you need to communicate with, the nature of the message itself, the time of day and other circumstances, so think about it, and act accordingly. Notice the differences that may arise when you text, place a phone call, make a personal visit or send an email.
  3. Stretch your conversational muscles and practice. Practice the art of conversation with people you know and don't know. Next time you're with a loved one, a friend or associate, bring up some new conversational topics and see what happens (again, without any devices within easy reach or earshot). Next time you are in a public setting, social occasion or business gathering, strike up a conversation with someone you don't know. Practice the art of conversation through attentive listening and purposeful sharing, like playing catch with an easy back-and-forth dynamic. Enjoy the process and see how you are getting back to the rhythms and grooves of interpersonal communications.

I'd love to hear how these ideas work for you and find out about any other ideas from you. If you are so inclined, pick up the phone and guess what? Call me…I am serious!

My telephone number is listed on the Voicetrax San Francisco website, www.voicetraxsf.com. Our whole team is always thrilled to answer the phone, so please call us if you are interested: after all, we're voice actors…and there's nothing we love more than the spoken word coming from human beings.

Let's have a conversation!

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From $0 to $3Billion In Sales: Serial Inventor Joy Mangano Shares Her Entrepreneurial Secrets

How many times have you looked at something and thought: I wish this did more? And how many times have you thought long and hard about what else you could make it do, if you had the resources, time, and a factory-load of people working for you?


We've all certainly been there. Whether we were 5 and inventing a flying Barbie, or futuristic football, or 35 and looking at the kitchen imagining a self-taught robot that would help with the nightly dinners. We've all come up with what we thought were million dollar ideas - but almost none of us follow through because we're already too busy, and somebody else has probably invented it already.

For one woman, this very sequence of events took place when she was just a teenager. Unimpressed with her dog's collar, she created a new one with florescent sides (making them more visible to cars at night) that would fit more comfortably on a dog or cat's neck. But because of her relative youth, the collar was never produced, and a year later was released and patented by another company.

The girl, Joy Mangano, vowed this would never happen again.

Fast forward to 1990. Single mother-of-three, Mangano has a bigger, bolder idea. This time, the Miracle Mop is born, launching her career as an entrepreneur and setting her up for a life in the spotlight with her product launch on QVC. Between then and now, Mangano has accrued 100 patents (for products like the Huggable Hanger and My Little Steamer) and her company, Ingenious Designs is worth over $50million.

This story was told in Hollywood by David O.Russell in 2015 with his Golden Globe winning movie, Joy. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Mangano served to highlight the difficulty of entrepreneurship and instruct on the minefield of patent disputes.

Mangano's latest product is one she says she's been working on for her entire life: a journal, a manual and a self-help for entrepreneurs wrapped up in her book, Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life.

SWAAY spoke with Mangano about the necessity for this kind of book in this age of entrepreneurship, and how it will resonate with aspiring female inventors and change-makers.

Drawing on her success and the pains it took to get there, Mangano has penned a book that will no doubt be a bible for those looking to take their flying Barbies or futuristic footballs to market. "I️ believe it will be a resource for people they can keep coming back to," she remarks. "This book truly is a lesson for anybody - in their careers, no matter what age."

Her family have been crucial to the whole process of building her brand and expanding Ingenious Designs, for the last 17 years, and have informed many of the chapters in the book. "I️ am fortunate enough to work with my children, family and friends and they were completely integral (to the books production)," says Mangano. Her daughter Christie serves as SVP Brand Development, Merchandising & Marketing Strategy having worked with her mom for thirteen years. “She's my left brain," laughs Mangano. Both her son Bobby and other daughter Jackie have worked elsewhere before also coming under their mother's umbrella. Bobby currently serves as Executive Vice President of the company and Jackie is involved with the fashion side of the business, which is certainly no mean feat, as she is also involved in styling for the upcoming reboot of The Murder on the Orient Express.

"When you can do things in life - work and follow your passion with people you love - it makes it all that much more meaningful and pure happiness."

The launch of her book signals new territory for the serial inventor, who has her first opportunity to tour the country and speak to those whose homes she has appeared in for the past 15 years on QVC and HSN.

"This is really one of my dreams," she comments. "I️'ve always wanted to go around the country and meet all of my customers and this is one way to do that. It couldn't be better."

"95% of my customers are women so I️ can't help but be an advocate always."

While on tour, Mangano is destined to meet a host of people that will tell her of their inventions or start-up ideas, but none more so than the millennials, who are completely reinventing the notion of entrepreneurship. Mangano hopes that through the book aspiring female entrepreneurs will be able to take solace in the fact they don't have to do it all. "I️ truly believe - this is a generation I️ watch, a lot of them work for me and with me - today, more than ever, they think they have to do it all."

"Dressed beautifully and in a meeting, they'll say 'I've been up since 5. Dressed the kids. Fed the kids.' And then (after work) they'll come home, have quality time, bath time. And I️ say - you can miss a game." If there's one thing she would invent for millennial women, it's this very advice, she says.

Rather than a product, or an item, it's this advice that, contrary to the millennial mindset, you don't have to be five places at one time or working 20-hour days to get where you want to be. Instead, Mangano has sections of the book that will inform on how better to manage your time and your ideas - to employ her methods - so you can become successful with (a little) less stress.

When asked how social media and the digital age has influenced her real-world inventions (like mops, hangers, steamers and pillows), Mangano chuckles. Technology, rather than impairing the invention of real world application actually opens up a 'wider range' tells the inventor. “It opens up a direct - to - consumer feedback and enhances your platform."

"With Instagram and Facebook my customers communicate with me. That's critical for looking at what you do and for the future of what you do."

Out of the dozens of things she's invented, Mangano won't say what her favorite is. "What am I️ most proud of? That's hard to say - that's like asking what child do you love the most and I️ don't think I️ could be prouder of any of them."