Talking Past Each Other? Good!

Gary, July 8, 2021

I probably engage in more communications online than I do in person. Talking past each other is a common phenomenon even in (or more likely even more than) face to face situations. It consists of me (or you) waiting for noise to stop coming out of the other person’s mouth hole while thinking of more stuff you want to say, then saying them while the other person does the same.

If it goes on long enough one of you will be hammering the table with your fist about steroids while the other person is breaking an empty beer bottle and looking to do some cosmetic surgery on your face because of what you just said about free speech.

This happens in texting, too, though at least you have a record of what was said not dependent on self-serving memory. I do enjoy conversation – don’t we all love the attention? Attention is love. Lack of attention is lonely. Lack of attention in a face-to-face discussion is a lover’s quarrel preparatory to divorce or murder.

Heh, this reminds me of a joke where…oh, better not wander off.

I read a short science fiction story, can’t remember the author, that dealt with the difficulty of time lapse in communications over long distances. Suppose you are on earth and you want to talk with people on a research vessel orbiting Jupiter.

You: “Hi, how’s it going?”

[One hour and 26 minutes pass]

Them: “All right? What’s up?”

That just ain’t working, is it?

In the story the research team had a problem and they needed the people back on earth to help them out. The time lapse (approximately 43 minutes one way between Earth and Jupiter) was intolerable. The communication was initiated by the research team…and they never stopped talking! They described the problem, described what steps they had taken, what steps they were considering, and on and on. Once the people on earth started receiving, they never stopped “listening,” not exactly. They listened in a sense, but also immediately started responding – the exchange of information never stopped as long as anybody had anything to say.

It’s like writing a book – you don’t stop writing, you keep writing, you edit, you polish, you reconsider, but it’s all you, the author. Ninety-five percent of the book is done before you start getting feedback from your editor.

In this case it’s not that “talking past each other” is not listening (in person it mostly is not listening), but rather it is shipping information in bulk that each party can examine closely without the urgent need to immediately respond. You can take your time, you can compose your thoughts, you can self-edit (if you have the discipline), you can make your case. You can also give the other person your full attention when you aren’t talking, whereas sitting across from the other person…well, that’s a situation that is pregnant with impatient anticipation. The conversation might be a love fest or more often a battle for supremacy, for being the King of the Conversation Hill.

There is a place…indeed, there is a crying need…for both things. In person conversations are polluted with bad or at least undisciplined and unproductive behaviors. Conversations that take place in letters are usually much better (and they were in the days pre-internet). You got a letter and you read the damn thing, you read it through and through, and saved it. You wrote back (if so inclined) with a letter including as much news as you could think to stuff it with. The problem with our “letters” today is that they are composed and “mailed” within seconds or minutes.

Talking past each other in person often sucks. Via our keyboards it can be a very, very good thing if we care to make it so.


Author: Gary Fletcher

Yes, I was young once.

1 thought on “Talking Past Each Other? Good!

  1. One thing I like about blogs is they are more like letters is you should set back and think about what the writer said. Unfortunately not everyone does this.

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