Speed kills.  I’m sure you’re familiar with the advertising campaigns that bolstered our road safety regulations.  Texting whilst driving has also joined the ranks in securing more consciousness for travel in order to prevent unnecessary deaths or accidents. Whether you agree with this ruling or not, the digital and velocity based elements of these factors play an integral part of our lives.  Our need for speed has driven the hyper-development of applications that are now essential to us.  Aside from the established social media platforms we are all too familiar with, the recent departure of online transportation apps Uber and Lyft from the city of Austin has rendered residents unable to fathom an existence without them.  Aside from the initial voting process which spurred much debate, the outcome has become as common a conversational ice-breaker as the British discussing weather.

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Umbrellas out at Ladies’ Day, Ascot.

Through all the speculation of Austin’s future transportation options, this controversial change has at least borne unification through topical debate (aside from presidential campaigns that provide understandable reflection upon the future of America). Conversational ice-breakers vary depending on the audience, familiarity of speakers and even mood.  For example, the ‘water cooler moment’ is that all too memorable point in the day when work peers come together on their metaphorical soapboxes to discuss matters outside of the team meeting.  Or perhaps just to count the hours down until freedom.  Either way, the ignition is the water cooler but if you step outside of this environment, what other moments have you made time for lately to truly converse?  Chic-chat, gossip, prattle… garrulous conversation that rarely requires too much brain work or challenge seems to have become a curse of our digital way of living.  True expression has become diluted through emojis, acronyms and gifs, however, this came as a result for our ‘need for speed’ and typing longer sentences does not serve our more urgent need as human beings; to connect.

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http://shop.moderntoss.com/products/water-cooler-coaster (amended)

Our necessity to connect with other human beings, regardless of quality of conversation, has somewhat eclipsed our consciousness of what we bring to the proverbial table.  This thought is not to question one’s aptitude at such a task, it is simply to forge consideration for the art of conversation itself that must be salvaged.  There is a romance in friendship that percolates beautifully through this dance with words.  Michel de Montaigne, a philosopher from the French Renaissance wrote an essay on the subject titled ‘On Friendship’ based upon his notorious friendship with Etienne de La Boétie.  One such chapter is titled ‘The Art of Conversation’ and Montaigne goes on to share statements such as: “To my taste the most fruitful and most natural exercise of our minds is conversation… I would rather lose my sight than my powers of speech or hearing”.  Furthermore, he goes on to express his desire for challenge during discussion: “I do truly seek to frequent those who manhandle me rather than those who are afraid of me.  It is a bland and harmful pleasure to have to deal with people who admire us and defer to us.”  Quite a candid remark in this last sentence, which plays more into our need for acceptance.  Our digital lives have a propensity to fuel this need, with digitized reactions that either applaud or berate our musings.  In regards to future generations, new research from the UK states that nearly one third of children in primary schools are unable to hold a conversation, as well as learn basic social skills, due to parents’ preoccupation with smartphones.  This is an easy self-check the next time you speak to either adult or child; how long can you go before breaking eye-contact in order to look at your phone?



As with any detrimental behavior, the ideal resolution that can initiate a break in this cycle is self-awareness. The art of conversation is as skillful as any well played sport, opening up our minds beyond mediocrity. Consider your audience and choose your moments.  Allow yourself to invest time into developing your linguistic skills beyond trending articles or the judgment of others, as ultimately the beneficiaries will be countless. The depth of understanding you will achieve will be boundless, including aspects of your own personality that you may never have considered.  As Montaigne also quoted; “The world is but a school of inquiry.”

Question everything, including yourself.