• Patrick McAndrew

Driving the Conversation

I stumbled upon an amazing and eye-opening video recently.  It was posted a couple of years ago by the YouTube channel, StrongDeafVoice.  This channel alerts people about Deaf Culture and they made a video about how you shouldn’t text while conversing with a deaf person.  You can watch it below:

It’s a simple video, but it really hit me.  What if we all had to speak with our hands?  If you have a conversation with someone who is deaf, you must give them your undivided attention or else the meaning of the conversation would get completely lost.

Who’s to say this doesn’t happen with the lucky ones who can hear clearly?  If Person A is having a conversation with Person B and Person X, who is not present, texts Person B and then Person B responds to Person X while conversing with Person A, how much of the conversation has Person B really heard?  Sounds like a complicated math problem.  The answer is the square root of nothing times pie (because who doesn’t like pie?).

I like to think of conversations like driving.  When we converse, there are social signals and non-verbal reactions that we clock, much like a traffic light or warning signs while driving.  We can converse quickly and we can have long, deep conversations.  With driving, we can drive past the speed limit to get to the nearest convenient store in a jiffy and then there are those long drives that last hours and hours.  Conversations have their ups and downs, their slow moments and fast moments, and parts when there is silence, but still plenty of energy within the conversation.  With driving, you have your bridges and your tunnels, your sharp turns and your U-turns, and those moments when the car is in park, but still running.  And, of course, you have those lovely traffic jams.  Conversing and driving are both dances with exterior elements.  And, like any dance, you’re less likely to step on someone else’s feet if you learn and master the steps.

Man…I’m proud of myself with that analogy!  A conversation is EXACTLY like driving!  See, friends, I’m starting to get the hang of this writing thing.

And, like you shouldn’t text and drive, I’m a big believer that, overall, you shouldn’t text and talk.  Sure, there are those moments when it’s better to have your phone on you, in case of an emergency and such, but for the most part its not really a necessity.

When we text and talk we encounter dangers like we do when we text and drive.  Granted, these dangers are less likely to be life-threatening, but we are missing out on key conversational cues.  When we text while conversing, we do not pick up on body language.  We tend to block out tone and we miss key information within a conversation.  How many times have you had to retell a story because Joe Shmoe was too busy texting Fancy Nancy who he just met at a party last week, but he met her on OKCupid while he was at the party?

I think the danger is that we don’t realize how much we miss as we are engaged in our phones.  As an effect, we rarely feel bad or guilty for putting up these ‘iWalls’ (blogpost throwback!) because in our eyes we did not do anything wrong.  And perhaps the receiver of your virtual cold shoulder will shrug it off and not think much of it.  But, however subtle, it does have an impact on us.  This is what struck me about the video.  We can’t feign listening when speaking with someone who is deaf.  And we shouldn’t feign listening when speaking with someone who is not.  Even if we hear the words, do we really hear the meaning?

Let me know your thoughts.  Interrupting conversations by bringing out our phones has become a social norm, but is there a negative side effect to this?  Comment below!


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