#SWAAYthenarrative

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!

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.