Let’s talk…

Rock Hudson, Gloria Swanson, and Tallulah Bankhead at the premiere of “Pillow Talk” (1959)

I often wonder about the lost art of conversation.

In a way social media binds us together, but I can’t help thinking the Internet might be leading to the automation of humanity. Walk down any street and see heads bent to devices, ignoring the world for a digital sampling. And while I get what chasms are bridged by a leap through cyberspace — yes — I get it. I correspond now with people across the world who I have never met, yet we are virtually close. That’s right just a byte away from close, because for us organic souls what clinches the deal in friendship and intimacy is contact. So while overtures can be made online, there’s nothing like face time, and by that I mean in close proximity with no electrical intermediary, IRL.

It concerns me that infants aren’t learning to recognize facial expressions because their parents are more interested in gazing at their iPhones or Androids.

Social interactions depend on complex signals in many modalities. For human interactions, however, spoken language plays such an important role that we often forget about the importance of non-verbal signals. Among these non-verbal signals, facial expressions have a major part in social interactions.

I worry that children can’t empathize, that teenagers removed from Snapchat, Instagram, (etc.), are at a loss to express themselves.

Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation?

It’s troubling that college students need training in table manners…

MIT isn’t the only science-focused institution to veer into the world of etiquette. Caltech offers Manners 101, “in preparation for the post-Caltech world of business receptions and dinner parties,” according to the course description. The several-hour non-credit class, offered a few times each year, runs students through a multi-course meal with a business etiquette consultant.

“We’ll serve up some challenging food to eat — shellfish in the shell, really long pasta, Cornish game hen, you name it,” said course instructor Tom Mannion, Caltech’s director for student activities. Mannion also leads classes on food and wine pairing, and on cooking, which use students’ interest in chemistry and other physical sciences to open their eyes to etiquette issues.

“If you know the basics of wine and food, you’re going to be set for life,” said Mannion, whose cooking students receive credit and each year produce a dinner for physicist Stephen Hawking.

It’s not as if these MIT and Caltech students are ill-mannered oafs. But the world in which they have grown up is far different from those of previous generations, where table manners were taught at nightly sit-down family dinners, where texting, Facebooking and tweeting didn’t exist, where graduates were not as likely to encounter colleagues from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Then I start to wonder about inspiration and imagination when the modern creative process is inextricably tied to skimming memes and databases…

I was getting very grumpy about all of this when I started to see the flip side, like when understanding goes deep via MIE (Minimally Invasive Education).

Given free and public access to computers and the Internet, a group of children can

Then there’s “Codegirl”

The documentary follows what happens when 3,000 teen girls from 28 countries — including Brazil, India, Moldova, Nigeria, and the U.S. — are taught to code apps, create business plans, and develop go-to-market strategies. The girls build apps that address poverty, fractured communities, domestic violence, disease prevention, unemployment, and drought. It’s impressive stuff that shows the power of technology to change lives.



And I find that spending time on the computer/tablet/smartphone (in moderation) gives me hope for the future.





  1. Found through Elyse. Thanks for the post. We have miracles possible every day because of our technology, but it’s important to balance the RPT (real people time) with the virtual world.

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