#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA
Close

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!

6 Min Read
People

Sneak Peek: Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories About Dating, Divorce, And Saying "I Do"

Dating. Divorce. Marriage. Being single. None of it is easy.


I don't think any of us have the right answers or know exactly what we are doing when we navigate through relationships or breakups, even if we do take every Buzzfeed quiz there is out there. What I have found out though, is by writing this book, Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Dating, Divorce & Saying "I Do" most everyone can relate to some part of it, whether it is having an awkward date, being dumped, or falling in love. The short stories read as if we are talking over drinks at a bar gossiping about our love life. It's as if, you, reader, are one of my best friends. I hope by reading this book you are reminded that you don't have to be anybody but you and your mistakes are simply memories to learn upon. Get comfy, grab a glass of wine (or your beverage of choice), cuddle with your furry companion (pet or otherwise), and enjoy…

From the chapter "Kansas & The Firepit" from Female. Likes Cheese. Comes with Dog: Stories about Divorce, Dating & Saying "I Do"

I had lost my dog to my ex. I was a mess. I thought this man was going to be by my side the rest of my life, I had gained a lot of weight. Not the kind of weight you gain when you tell your friend "OMG, Kelly, I, like, put on five pounds this summer because of all the partying I've been doing at the rooftop bars," but real weight. The weight that makes you feel totally inadequate. The weight that makes you say, Hey I might as well keep eating because it doesn't matter anymore. I was inconsolable during that summer.

I still wasn't completely out of my trash TV and alcohol phase, but I had switched to vodka, at least. Which, let's be real, just hides the fact that you're an alcoholic. I wasn't really talking to anyone about my problems. My mom tried to take me to fat camp. Yes, fat camp. When your mother says the reason why you're not happy is because you're fat, there comes a point where you really don't know whether to laugh, cry, or drink. I think I did all three. The reason why I wasn't happy was because I was going through a divorce, and my life was unraveling. I was not only unhappy but also fat, so I guess there was some truth to that. It was just what I needed to hear to get myself back to reality.

While cleaning the kitchen one day, I walked by a pair of boxing gloves. Boxing was something I had always been interested in. Watching it on TV and having some friends that had done it professionally, I figured I would take the plunge and put this "body after breakup" into motion.

There was only one boxing club in our area for fitness. I walked into the afternoon classes knowing that I was going to be a little out of my element, but I'm not afraid of a challenge. I'm an outgoing person and being sports savvy, I knew that I would catch on quickly. The guy teaching the class, Kansas, was very attractive. Ladies, you know how in yoga when you have to do the sun god pose? Well, let's just say he was what you would hope a sun god looked like. With sweat glistening down the side of his face, it was almost as if the ceiling parted and angels started singing as he stood over you telling you, "Ten more!" as you got down for ab rounds between punches. This guy was exciting. He was energetic. He was. . . constantly checking on me during class to make sure my form was correct, since I was new, and let's face it—I was totally OK with the attention. After class I signed up for a one-year membership and became addicted, not just because I loved the workouts but also because of the hot trainer.

I started coming to class three times a week, initially taking only Kansas's classes, but not wanting to look obvious when I really started crushing on him, I had to mix it up. I mean, this is Crushing 101. This was my first crush out of the gate post-divorce, so exactly what you think would happen, happened. Kansas became my rebound guy. I would make any excuse to linger after class (which, looking back, just made me look desperate), but then sometimes I would switch it up and leave. I mean, it was a game. I was trying to figure out if he was interested or not. It was exhausting. After talking after class for a few weeks, I happened to mention a home improvement project I had been thinking of working on. Being the good listener (stalker?) that I was, I knew he just happened to be interested in home improvements, as he did many of his own. I figured that would be a great way to get to know each other better and for him to fall completely in love with me, of course. Duh. Now I had a reason to cross something off my "list". I love sitting outside and having a glass of wine and listening to music by a fire. I wasn't really sure how I was going to accomplish this task on my own, but recruiting a fine gentleman like Kansas would be a good start. So, he agreed to my firepit project, and after gathering supplies at Home Depot, he came over, and I quote to you from my journal, I kid you not:

So today he shows up, and we are in the backyard digging the hole, and he takes his shirt off. His body is a wonderland! I mean sweat is just glistening down his torso. So I had to change the subject somehow and shut my gaping mouth, so like an idiot I say, "Oh, look, a callus on my hand," and he says, "Those on a woman are sexy." FML.

Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to know what I did that day? Something so adult and so mature: I pushed him into the dirt. I pushed that beautiful body into the dirt. I couldn't take it. I was like a schoolkid on a playground. Because that is the type of tantrum this lady used to throw. Kansas took it as flirting. I took it as frustration, because I couldn't tell a boy I liked him at the time.

This whole awkward flirting game went on for a few more weeks. Kansas would come over, and we'd dig more holes (to bury my dignity in) or set stones—I don't know. I thought rebound guys were supposed to be fun, casual things, but this wasn't fun at all. This was like homework in school. Every day I'd come home from "class," and I'd strategize on what I needed to do to make better "grades." If I had actually spent half the time in real school that I spent on Kansas, I would've had a 4.0. I was having to chase him, but I almost didn't know what race I was running. After all, I hadn't dated since 1884. So I figured if the firepit thing didn't work, then I'd write him a poem... Like a moron...