The irony of living ‘alone, together’

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The irony of living ‘alone, together’


Is there a single married couple that has never considered divorce? Even the most happily married people must have thought about it once or twice. Couples who divorce cite various reasons, but the most common cause is lack of conversation. When you don’t talk to your spouse frequently, there are misunderstandings. These misunderstanding lead to resentment. The resentment turns into hatred, and hatred eventually leads to divorce.

Experts emphasize that particular skills are required for a good conversation. One first needs to have eye contact, for instance. Careful listening and empathy are also two key techniques of thoughtful conversation. One should not make comments or otherwise cut in when the other person is talking. True conversationalists need to be patient, put themselves in the other person’s shoes and listen until the other person is done. In marriage, it would be best if both spouses mastered the art of conversation, but if that is not possible, at least one should have conversation skills.

And of course, communication is not important just among couples. It is a key element to happy living within the family and even at the workplace. Sherry Turkle, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, points out that in the era of social network services, communication has increased while conversation has decreased. While people constantly exchange e-mails and text messages, such interaction cannot replace actual conversations. Communication through digital devices cannot replace face-to-face conversation, where nuance, facial expression and tone of voice all come into play.

As people are constantly plugged into their mobile devices, they feel they are with other people. But the truth is that they are still fundamentally alone. Someone who lacks the ability to endure solitude tends to be especially obsessed with technology, but digital communication often leads to more loneliness as it crowds out opportunities for actual conversation. Turkle describes the digital dualism of modern people in the age of social networks with an oxymoron: “alone, together.”

For couples and others, Turkle suggests making rules to safeguard conversation. How about a “sanctuary of conversation” at home, where no digital devices are allowed, or a “conversation Thursday” instead of “casual Friday” at workplaces?

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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