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Some thoughts on open access vs. conversation

July 12, 2010

(My apologies if I’m posting this in the wrong place.)

Comedian Lewis Black mentions in one of his standup bits that people during the 60s were experts in “hanging out,” which included having long (and probably drug-enhanced) conversations about anything.  If you didn’t know something, you made it up, just for the sake of continuing the conversation.  Nowadays, you ask a question, and people immediately tell you to “Go Google it.”

Can’t access this from work, but there’s also a song on YouTube called, “Go Google It.”

At my workplace, too, I’ve noticed that people just sit quietly with their laptops.  Should you interrupt with a question, you won’t get a direct answer, just a link (not to mention probably a dirty look).  Reminds me of the “parallel play” we learned about in psychology class, you know, when toddlers play individually while sitting near one another, as a developmental stage preceding that of playing together and relating to others.

My question to you is:  As more and more information becomes freely accessible and tweakable on the Internet (yes, this is a VERY good thing) – what will happen (what is happening?) to the “art” of conversation?  I realize that, as information professionals, we don’t want to have conversations with our patrons; we want to lead them to the sources where they can choose to drink or not drink … and move on to the next person.  But, how does teaching people to fish – sorry for clumping metaphors – affect the human relational activity of sitting around and talking?

Or is it a question of work vs. leisure?  Okay, so work is all about links.  Do people still talk to their friends (real-time friends, not necessarily Facebook friends, lol) on the weekends?   Have cocktail party conversations become mere link exchanges?  Or is it all about more parallel play … video games, Wii, going to the movies?  And what about the idea that males engage in more parallel play activities together than do females as a group?  Is this changing overall, or is our Internet society somehow becoming more male or unisex?

Feel free to tell me to “Go Google it.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. clementmunns permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:42 pm

    I like this a lot as it points out a fundamental issue with our work. The important thing to remember is that work is work; if we work at what we love then that’s icing on the cake (IMHO) because I’ve done work simply for the want of money. Even the pursuit of the MLIS degree has a purely economic aspect: can’t be a librarian without the certification it confers.

    As for conversation as art I think we are becoming more articulate and conversant on a broader array of subjects than at any time in the past. See Clay Shirky on how the web has caused of to read and write so much more than the past:

  2. July 13, 2010 9:36 pm

    I sometimes wonder if it has to do with the sign of the times that we’ve conditioned ourselves to be less trustful of strangers. For example, whenever I go back to HK and then meet up with some tourists who’re there for the first time, I’ll try suggest to them what they should do while in town if we strike up a conversation. Some will gladly take my suggestions while with some, you could just tell they’re either losing interest or are reluctant to “open up” more and let the conversation continues. Maybe they’re wary that I might try to rip them off!

    • clementmunns permalink
      July 14, 2010 8:45 am

      Ever the contrarian, I’ll say that if people are less trusting of strangers that’s a good thing; maybe the Nigerian bank account scam will stop working and phishing will go away (I’m not hopeful as the world seems to be full of individuals who fit the W.C. Fields axiom “Never Give A Sucker An Even Break”).

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