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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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The Great Chain of Being in Contact

My friend Jane posted this on my Facebook wall: “Had a lovely imaginary conversation with you yesterday, which made me think it’s time for a real one.” Which brought to mind categories of conversations.

Face-to-Face: Or F2F. This kind of conversation happens in real time. You get to experience the facial expressions and gestures of the person you’re talking to and receive and give immediate feedback.

Presentational: Somewhat F2F, but one speaker addresses many audience members. If there’s time for questions, which in a very limited way resembles conversation, some jackass usually eats up the time by spouting nonsense in an attempt to outshine the speaker.

Telephonic: A voice conversation in which the interlocutors are not in the same place. Also happens in real time, but lacks the visual information.

Virtual: A conversation based on text communication (by computer or cell phone). Can happen synchronously (e.g., IM) or asynchronously (e.g., email, text). It’s virtual in the sense that all of the information usually involved in a conversation must be simulated, recreated, or assumed through the words and formatting.

Venty: Not to be confused with the large coffee at Starbucks (spelled with an “i”), this category is similar to the in-person presentational style mentioned above. Although online communication allows us to communicate more readily about most anything, there’s more talking than listening going on. We post our thoughts, and we certainly share what we think in comments sections, product reviews, etc., but it seems that mostly we’re venting frustration through words. Not that that’s a bad thing. Honestly.

Epistolary: A written correspondence by letter. Since it’s so difficult to include the text you’re responding to as is automatically done with email, there’s a lag of time and content that makes this kind of communication almost imaginary to me. But extremely intelligent people communicated important ideas this way throughout history, so what’s my problem?

Imaginary: Whereas all of the above types are actual conversations, imaginary conversations are stand-ins for the real things. Why would anyone want to imagine conversation? Well, some of us are fiction writers (duh!), but beyond that, imagining a conversation can be a useful way to prepare for a discussion that is going to be difficult in some way. Or, in the case of Jane’s imaginary conversation with me, we know each other really well, and although we wouldn’t presume to speak for each other, we can guess pretty accurately what the other might say and proceed with a conversation when time doesn’t allow us to connect in any of the aforementioned ways.

Of course, there can be considerable overlap among categories. Even a F2F conversation can be imaginary given how little attention some people bring to their interactions with others. There’s the person, right in front of you, and you can ask for all the clarification you want. But sometimes (often) it’s just easier to make shit up.

And, as with any attempt to categorize human behavior, don’t take this too seriously–just seriously enough. (I’m smiling as I type this, but it’s not a snarky smile. You should see how sincere I’m being about this.)

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2 Responses

  1. This is great — a primer on conversations, and an affirmation of “virtual” ones — and everyone should read it.

  2. “some jackass usually eats up the time by spouting nonsense in an attempt to outshine the speaker.” YOU SPEAK THE TRUTH.

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