Analog skills for the digital age: conversation

Conversation has a kind of charm about it, an insinuating and insidious something that elicits secrets from us just like love or liquor. Seneca, Roman philosopher, mid-1st century AD

SXSW Interactive was this week in Austin and appears to be a huge international success. With all the blogging, twittering and Foursquare meet ups, I believe the basis of its success was that people, digital natives especially, wanted to interact with people of common interest face-to-face. The activity they sought most was conversation. Here are three examples that led me to that conclusion.

  1. Jen introduced herself to me through LinkedIn. She is planning to move from LA to Austin this summer and wanted to connect with members of our community as part of her quest to find a job here. I could have simply facilitated some introductions through LinkedIn, but it was by sharing our stories with each other that I got to know her. What she is passionate about. What her experiences have been. What drives her crazy. Through conversation, I can now suggest the right people for her to meet.
  2. My son, an aspiring film maker, attended a session that featured his favorite score writer/musician. Not only did he get to hear some insightful commentary about the artist’s Academy Award winning work, he was able to have a direct conversation after the presentation. My son could have watched the highlights of the presentation on YouTube, read the synopsis on one of many blogs or followed the highlights on Twitter, but nothing could replace the value he got from a brief, highly personal conversation.
  3. Midori worked for me years ago and now works with the start-up community on behalf of a major software company. We have kept up with each other during the past year on Facebook, picked our place to meet on Yelp! and checked in on Foursquare. But it was the act of sharing a pint and engaging in conversation that I learned more about what her aspirations are, what motivates her and why her boys are so important to her.

These are but three small examples of the thousands of conversations that made SXSW so successful. As we all get more used to texting our kids, posting our pictures on Facebook and sharing our thoughts on our blogs, let’s also encourage each other to pause every now and again for a real conversation. And hope that it does not become a lost art in the digital age.