The art of conversation - is it dead?

Yesterday, I returned from a nice, easy-going vacation week-end with a group of very amiable and bright friends. Each evening we would have a cozy campfire and talk about lots of stuff. We seemed to solve all the world’s problems every night. This was an enjoyable part of the trip except for one thing: nearly everyone was interrupting the speaker and talking over (at louder volume) any debate that was happening. I have noticed this annoying trend in my fellow workers, but I put it down to insecurity in my workplace - I work for Big Oil in Alaska, and we are in the middle of yet another upheavel. Anyway, whatever happened to polite, considerate, oral discourse? Most people join a conversation just so they can relate their own experiences / opinions / desires. In my opinion, that’s not conversation, that’s oratory. I keep getting the feeling I have just sat through a sermonette.

All of my friends and I, when speaking, talk over one another louder and louder, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We developed this in college, possibly due to the fact most conversations took place in loud bars, or just that were all overbearing, opinionated, stubborn bastards. My instinct is that you’re correct that this is common, but the assumption that it is a new occurance and that in the past we all discussed things in a calm stately polite manner is bullshit, I imagine you watch to many period films.

Thanks for setting me straight. Am I correct in assuming you were yelling at the top of your lungs as you corrected me?

The answer is 'Yes, it’s dead." That’s the bottom line and I don’t wanta hear anything more, unnerstand?


I have noticed this too - at work and with friends. I don’t know how to account for it, except maybe it begins in the work place, where you almost need to do it to be heard in meetings or other business settings. But I think those of us who don’t like it need to speak up – tactfully of course – and say “excuse me, but can we tone it down a bit – I’d like to get a word in” or some such. OTOH, it takes at least two to have a conversation – are WE responding appropriately? Did you want to make your own speech? If someone opined at length on some topic, did you respond to it,or ask questions about it to bring it to a more conversational level? If a speaker isn’t getting feedback, he/she is either going to keep going, or shut up and not utter another word. Takes two to tango.

I would say no, not in our crowd. Each summer I have a get together every to every other weekend, complete with a campfire. A group of us (8 or so) all sit around telling stories and talking, and everyone pretty much takes their turn. Maybe you have to be “mellow” to have a good conversation :wink:
It works for us

It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free-

My husband has a tendency to interrupt (and make really dumb-assed assumptions) about what I’m going to say before I’ve actually gotten to the point. He was really bad about it whenever we’d have aruguments. Fortunately, we don’t argue much, but it was still really freaking annoying to try & have to keep him on issue. I finally got him to quit interrupting me by telling him that if he ever did it again, I was going to ram my (insert cuss word here) fist down his (insert another cuss word here) throat. While that seemed to solve my problem, I don’t recommend taking that particular tack in ordinary conversation.

The art of conversation isn’t dead. I think the funding has just been drastically cut.

Coversation on a whole is definately dying.
Where I live, it’s almost impossible to find anyone who is capable of intelligent converation, when “big words” are met with a blank stare. Younger people are particularly inarticulate and unread.

Why do you think I hang out here as much as I do? Because I sometimes get to “talk” to some very intelligent people. (You know who you are.) It’s just about my only opprotunity to do so.

My vote? The art isn’t dying, but its dedicated practitioners are. Rather than conversations in measured thoughts & tone, by literate persons… Well, as the art of reading vanishes, or changes perhaps, due to the influence of TV and USA Today, the ability to have a discussion “paragraphs long” atrophies.

Been going on for a while: compare the conversations of NY or DC straphangers, who read while commuting, and LA commuters, driving on the freeway, [hopefully] not reading the Times but listening to Rush or whatever. (No value judgement intended there, just the facts.)

An intelligent conversation depends on common references & allusions on matters on import(whether or not one agrees with them), not merely parroting the latest Seinfeld quip. Whaddya expect when Jared Diamond isn’t a best-seller, but Socks the Cat is ?

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

  • T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

If it makes you feel any better, my (teenaged) friends and I often have long,intelligent conversations. I’d much rather sit and talk than watch tv with my friends; I can watch tv alone. However, we do interrupt each other quite frequently. We often finish each other’s sentences and ask questions and add comments out of turn. What’s so terrible about that? If we merely sat around staring at each other allowing one person at a time to drone on, all of the vitality of the discussion would die! And, honestly, nothing bugs me more than a person that listens to me go on, saying nothing, adding nothing to the conversation, just waiting until I finish. This makes me uncomfortable, and I continue to talk, and she then complains that I did not give her a chance to speak!

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
– Henry David Thoreau

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Well, I think there can be a healthy balance of the brash talk you speak of and more mellow discourse. I know at work there seems to be a ratio which I am comfortable with.

As far as outside of work, actually, mellow talk far outweighs what you speak of, except for small talk, which I think has always been less intellectually stimulating.

Yer pal,

It’s the art of listening that’s dying.
Talking is easy, but really listening to what someone else is saying is incredibly difficult. Most people who try it give up almost immediately.


You said something?

Nickrz, you took my point.

I,too, am a frequent interrupter. I blame it on my family. My dad and I have long, loud, laughing, discussions where neither of us usually finishes a complete sentence due to the other finishing it. So…that being said…it drives my husband INSANE!! He’s taken to saying, “I’m not finished yet.” to which I respond sheepishly, “Sorry”.

I am trying very hard to control my desire to blurt out everything I’m thinking.

I also think that we’ve been raised, in America, with so many sound-bites, that any thought that takes longer than 20 seconds to explain allows our attention to drift. Another result of our “instant society”.

Cessandra, I get the feeling you’re a bit smarter and more eloquent than most teens, and your friends proabably are too.

I worry for the art of letter-writing, which that danged telly-phone and E-mail are killing off. I write long, descriptive and (I hope!) entertaining letters, and my correspondents are thrilled to get 'em, as “no one writes anymore!” OK, E-mail and phones are convenient, but there’s nothing like opening a letter–with enclosures–and settling down for a nice read.

Just as dead as this thread, I guess.

Not to worry.
As long as there’s a couple of good joints to pass around, good conversation will remain.

Work like you don’t need the money…
Love like you’ve never been hurt…
Dance like nobody’s watching! …(Paraphrased)

You need a large piece of roast meat to have a conversation?


Lissa, if you look deeply enough, you’ll find that all people are intelligent.

Throwing around “big words” doesn’t help when people don’t understand them.

I have many times found janitors more intelligent than some of the PhDs I’ve had conversations with.

One beer is less than two beers.