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February 2016

Let’s Talk

Four and a half years had passed since my last (and only) trip abroad when I suddenly found myself lost in unfamiliar territory in the dead of winter. Fortunately for me, that territory was Denmark and I was very happy to be lost there, though regretfully without a balaclava. I was on a long-overdue vacation and I’d never taken time off before just to travel – not unless it was for a specific event, like a friend’s wedding, memorial service, or for work. Despite the overwhelming research on the benefits of vacationing, Americans are still notorious for NOT taking time off and I was definitely guilty of it. (Even Twitterology supports the benefits of travel, particularly travel abroad.) So I finally took off to visit the European countries highest on my travel list, and it was glorious.

When Coco asked me to write about the trip, my kneejerk response was to talk about the interesting things I saw, e.g. buildings, local print, and fashion – essentially, all the things that make designers drool. Between the rich history of Berlin, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam – all creative hubs in their own right – I could talk endlessly about the visual inspiration I came across. But instead, I want to talk about talking.

Although I met with friends in Germany, I essentially traveled alone. My favorite part of solo travel is that it’s far easier to meet new people and have spontaneous conversations. No matter where I am, I learn much more about the place from chatting with a local rather than poking around the internet or taking an endless stream of photos I’ll probably never look at again. During this trip, I was lucky enough to meet a gaggle of humorous and insightful individuals, a few of whom I befriended, which leads me back to something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately  – the power and decline of human conversation.

Much like meeting locals on my travels, I’ve found that I can learn more from one in-person discussion with a client or contractor than a week’s worth of emails, but sadly, conversation has fallen out of vogue. Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, was published last year, which is a continuation of decades of her research and observations that illustrate how we have developed an over-reliance on digital communication. For me, the most alarming outcome is that people are forgetting how to have face-to-face conversations. Even though we’re able to “communicate” and “share” more content today – words, images, data – it oftentimes falls short of a real human interaction.

In our work, email and text communication among clients, contractors, and even in our own office is now de rigueur, often eclipsing the desire for verbal conversation. It proves problematic in situations where a five minute chat would resolve a question that would otherwise take two dozen email volleys over multiple days. We’re all guilty of it – much like not taking vacation time. Instead of falling into bad habits, I’m making a concerted effort to more often hit the reset button and consciously choose to have a conversation.