Has conversation evolved?
As someone who enjoys a good conversation, the The art of conversation article in the December 23rd issue of The Economist was an enjoyable read. First, check out these rules to conversation published by Cicero in 44BC: speak clearly, speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticize people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and above all, never lose your temper.
It’s a few thousand years later and I think people could use a refresher course in most of these. The Economist points out that Cicero left off two golden rules: remember people’s names, and be a good listener.
The article goes on to discuss the skills of some of the greatest conversationalists, the differences between eras and cultures, and the current state of conversation.
Charles Dickens commented that Americans seemed taciturn after visiting the US in the 19th century. According to the article, he “blamed this on a love of trade, which limited men’s interests and made them reluctant to volunteer information for fear of tipping their hand to a competitor.” It then references George Orwell’s complaint in 1946 that “in very English homes the radio is literally never turned off. This is done with a definite purpose. The music prevents the conversation from becoming serious or even coherent.”
All of this has clearly continued into today, and in many ways has gotten worse with TVs, PDAs, surfing the Internet. The art of conversation for many high school kids today is in two word exchanges over IM. Add blogs and social media into the mix and you’ve got a unique situation. People who would have been at the bottom of the list of great verbal conversationalists in traditional terms now have a voice. They can debate, educate, build relationships, and most importantly (going back to the main point of the article), derive enjoyment from the conversation. The art of verbal conversation is something that I hope will live forever. It’s been a site, though, watching blogs give people a chance to start a real conversation, so long as they have an audience to converse with.
To all those bloggers out there, make note of Cicero’s rules. They apply on the Web as well.
What’s this have to do with clean tech PR? The conversation in the industry has started and it’s buzzing in today’s hype cycle. Will 2007 be the year that businesses, PR people and the media educate the public with enough real substance to fuel and sustain the conversation? Right now there are only a few real leaders (conversationalists) doing this: think Al Gore, John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, Joel Makower. There’s room for a lot more.