North Dakota has "fracking…"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 19:00
How about conversation “cracking” in the age of interruption?

The telephone rings during the family dinner. It’s a telemarketer. The cable TV company called earlier and wanted to offer us a better deal. At work our iPhone serenades us with an incoming call, derailing our train of thought. During a conversation, a person interrupts us in mid-sentence. In many cases the person doesn’t even realize he or she is doing it. Television advertising interrupts our programs. News commentators talk over each other two, three and even four at a time.

But strangely enough, most of us seem to be getting used to this barrage of sound.

Sometimes the best way to illustrate a point is to show the exact opposite. Years ago I visited a Lakota Indian reservation in South Dakota. I was there because the company I worked for had named an offshore oil field after one of the Lakota’s great leaders, Crazy Horse, and the Lakota people took exception. We were there to formally remove the name, assign a new name, apologize and generally make things right.

During my brief visit to the reservation it didn’t take long for me to realize there was something very different in conversations. Everyone waited until someone was finished speaking before they spoke. It was like that everywhere — in casual conversation, at a formal dinner, in work situations. It felt very strange.

Another thing I noticed was an economy of speech. Words were chosen carefully. People didn’t say more than was necessary. When they spoke, you felt as if it was important. I experienced something similar years ago during a visit to the Inupiat community of Barrow.

The talk-over: Admittedly, I have a growing hearing deficiency that makes it difficult for me to decipher individual voices when many are talking at once, or when there is tremendous background noise. Ear experts call this a sensorineural dysfunction. Basically, I have defective hearing sensors in the inner-ear that inhibit my ability to hear certain frequencies and to segregate frequencies from each other. That’s odd, since in the U.S. Navy my hearing was rated as excellent, even “off the charts” in both high and low frequencies. It’s why they put me in radio school.

So when someone talks to me while I’m talking to someone else on the telephone, or when Matt and Al and the rest of the gang on NBC’s Today Show are all talking at once, or when I’m in a rather noisy restaurant like Red Robin, I can barely pull out individual voices. Most of it is a conglomeration of white noise.

But getting back to modus operandi interruptus — if you pardon the Latin slang — I suppose people are so completely digitally wired in with iPhones and iPads. they want conversations to whiz along at iTouch speed. Actually, people who interrupt and finish thoughts for me aren’t nearly as annoying as people who interrupt when I have a completely different thought in mind.

But again, part of that is my problem, because I have an aversion to stating the obvious. But before I can bring another angle or viewpoint into a conversation, I’m interrupted with what they think I’m going to say: the most predictable line of thought.

Perhaps I speak too slowly. I have noticed that on many of the cable news programs, people talk as if they were battery-driven and just received a 150-watt charge. I think New Yorkers vie for the prize in fastest speech, but the trend seems to be spreading to other states. We’ve already started speaking in acronyms, like ASAP (As Soon As Possible) and PDQ, or Pretty Damn Quick.

None of this is really matters that much. If I speak less I get interrupted less. When I watch the cable news shows and they’re all talking at once, I just turn on my limited ESP (Extra Sensory Perception), watch their expressions, check what channel it is (CNN vs. Fox vs. MSNBC), adjust for their respective bias, and I can just about predict what they’re saying. I think if we went away and lived in the woods for 10 years, came back and turned on the television, they’d be talking about the same thing.

Jobs were scarce on that Lakota reservation. Perhaps I should get back ahold of those folks and suggest they open a School of Conversation. They could teach people how to listen, patiently wait until someone finishes speaking, and then the art of the succinct reply. While there’s oil “fracking” in North Dakota, South Dakota could become the center for “conversation cracking.”

Sounds like a rather viable business opportunity to me.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank, email [email protected].

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