Dave Pollard's chronicle of civilization's collapse, creative works and essays on our culture.
A trail of crumbs, runes and exclamations along my path in search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

December 19, 2006

Too Much Talk, Not Enough Action: But What To Do?

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 18:30
A 2004 article by Rob Cross describes research related to the purpose and value of social networking activities. The researchís interviewees overwhelmingly cited actionability as the most important attribute of knowledge, acquired from social networking activities, that they considered valuable. Specifically, they said, knowledge is actionable if it:
  1. Offers ëhow do Ií solutions, rather than theory
  2. Offers ëwho knows about xí referrals to experts
  3. Offers ëhave you thought aboutí problem reformulations
  4. Offers ëwe agree thatí validation of perceptions and intentions, or
  5. Offers legitimization of intentions by adding approval and hence the weight of authority

How much of our social networking ñ blogging, e-mails, phone and cafÈ conversations, meetups, conferences, unconferences, forums and collaborations ñ actually gives us know-how, referrals, problem reformulations, validation or legitimization ñ stuff we can act on? Most of the networking time I spend is consumed in these most unactionable activities:

  • Deciphering (or trying to decipher) what each other means/believes
  • Seeking (often without finding) consensus
  • In hierarchical situations, seeking/giving approval or instruction
  • Administration: organizing, scheduling, transmitting data and meta-data (links and other ëinformation about informationí)

And how much of the five types of ëactionableí knowledge in Robís list actually results in real, meaningful, sustainable change ñ of process, behaviour or mind? Not much, Iíd say. Many have argues that most bloggers and blog readers, for example, are looking in the ëecho chamberí for confirmation of what they already believe (preferably in an entertaining format) ñ type 4 stuff. At best, that might push people to move from belief to action on that belief. But Iím skeptical ñ for many, confirmation seems to be more an excuse for inaction (ëif we all agree, surely someone else is likely to do something about ití) than a provocation to action.

Most people who know me will tell you that I tend to dominate conversations ñ speak more than listen. But lately in social situations Iíve been strangely silent (to the great consternation of those who know me and wonder whatís wrong). Iíve come to value the silent company of cats and dogs and birds and whatever other wild creatures I find myself in company with, to the noisy conversation that used to consume much of my waking life. Perhaps this is due to:

  • The bloggerís habit of writing more than talking, and finding blog comments frustratingly unintelligible and context-poor (and wondering whether my own writing suffers from similar faults)
  • Realizing how little real communication actually occurs in conversation, and how much the real purpose of conversation seems to be to combat the loneliness and meaninglessness of so much of our isolated, disconnected and constrained lives ñ in other words, to make us feel better
  • The growing sense that we talk because we have to do something but are at a loss as to what to do, so we just go on chattering in endless circles, a dance that accomplishes nothing

Next week, from the 24th through the 31st, Iíve resolved to take a sabbatical, not only from blogging (I desperately need to set aside some time to update my table of contents for the last eight monthsí postings, and get caught up on e-mails, anyway), but from all unfocused ësocial networkingí ñ from all ësmall talkí and other human interactions that are not directed to meaningful, sustainable change (which, regular readers know, means mostly Let-Self-Change). My recent Let-Self-Change activities have been advanced further through contemplation, observation and reflection, often in the quiet company of (animal and human) others, with no conversation and no media distractions, than through vocal social activities, reading or research.

Iím not sure why this is. Perhaps itís because Iíve absorbed so much information and so many ideas in recent months that I just need time to digest it. Or perhaps Iím appreciating that our bodies process much more ëinformationí than our brains, and that our brains (if weíre paying attention) process a huge amount of information even in the absence of language. In fact, Iím beginning to wonder if language isnít actually an impediment to learning and an impediment to change, forcing us to ëabstractí everything we perceive and think before we can understand what it ëmeansí. Our instincts seem much quicker and more adept at this than our conscious minds.

Whatever the reason, I need to shut up for awhile. And I need others to just shut up for awhile and just ëcommuneí silently with me (physically or virtually) ñ pay attention, think about things ‘generously’ without preconception, open our senses to non-linguistic ëinformationí, to perception, to meaning, to see what is real and what is being ërealizedí all around us.

Maybe if we talk less about what we should do, we will finally come to ërealizeí what we must do.

Painting “In Deep Conversation” by Irish artist Pam O’Connell

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