Conversations, as they tend to play out in person, are messy—full of pauses and interruptions and topic changes and assorted awkwardness. But the messiness is what allows for true exchange. It gives participants the time—and, just as important, the permission—to think and react and glean insights. “You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle says. “It’s like dancing: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.”
Occasional dullness, in other words, is to be not only expected, but celebrated. Some of the best parts of conversation are, as Turkle puts it, “the boring bits.” In software terms, they’re features rather than bugs.
The logic of conversation as it plays out across the Internet, however—the into-the-ether observations and the never-ending feeds and the many, many selfies—is fundamentally different, favoring showmanship over exchange, flows over ebbs. The Internet is always on. And it’s always judging you, watching you, goading you. “That’s not conversation,” Turkle says.
She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.
The worst thing about my current schedule is that it often doesn’t leave me any time to get bored. And that’s necessary for mental health, seriously. Too often, there’s always something else that needs to be done. The end of the day comes, and I just feel worn out. I got a lot of things accomplished, but what I really wanted was a few hours to sit and do nothing, to let those deeper roots do their thing.
Conversation, I agree, is the same way. Hours, or even days, can go by without anyone feeling pressed to say anything substantial, and then suddenly, an in-depth discussion starts from out of nowhere. I am fortunate to at least have that going for me.