Thursday, October 22, 2015

Opportunities and obstacles for face to face conversation in Bellingham without just blaming the smartphone

Face to face conversation is often missing in our society. Technology gets blamed, but I see lack of conversational opportunity for for many reasons.

Here are some thoughts about the state of conversation in Bellingham. It's not as bad as one might think. I find quite a few opportunities, most likely because I live in town where there are many gathering places within easy walking distance.

One of the most likely settings for conversation is where there is nudity. Not something uptight folks might acknowledge. Seems like people often strike up conversation around hot springs. Too bad Bellingham doesn't have hot springs nearby, but we do have the sauna at the YMCA. Some of the time it's quiet, but often conversation happens more there than other places.

Unfortunately, it seems like bars are the main stays for face to face gathering in Bellingham. We have lots of bars populated by mostly students. Microbreweries are popping up all over. I don't use bars much as I don't like the flavor of beer and I also find bar conversation is superficial; especially over loud techno music.

Coffee is another beverage I don't like the flavor of. In old days, coffee shops used to be places for conversation, but now they seem to mostly be places for folks to use wifi. Also, one thinks of conversation being an evening activity. Bellingham coffee shops close early; except for a few of the large chain places. Mom and pop coffee shops often close promptly at 5 pm. What's that about?

Five Rhythms Dance is a place I meet lots of people, but conversation doesn't happen. It's dancing. I enjoy the interaction and the energy, but I feel I don't actually get to know the folks I meet dancing until I see them someplace else in town; like at the Food Co-op, where we strike up a conversation. Often the conversation starts with "I saw you at dance."

Another great place for conversation is the Friday evening Peace Vigils in front of the old Federal Building on Cornwall and Magnolia. There has been a peace vigil there since the 1960s. One of the oldest such gatherings in USA. Starts between 4 and 5 PM. Then a newer tradition joins in around 5 PM. Food Not Bombs. Sometimes there's music. Usually there's conversation and hanging out. Various other gatherings spin off from the Peace Vigil. There's a gathering of folks I sometimes join at Bellingham Bar and Grill. It's a bar, but a friendly group of folks at our table. Also reasonably priced food. I'll go to a bar for chicken salad.

TED Talk Tuesday is an interesting idea. They show a TED Talk and then have people discuss the topics after the talk. Happens each month at Exploration High School. Organized discussions like this can be valuable. Bellingham has lots of things like this. Book signings at Village Books, for instance.

The weekly Wednesday Dinner gathering based on my Yahoo Group seems to work pretty well. Even though it is fairly small, it's one of the only ongoing signs of gay community in this area.

This article with many of my thoughts after listening to the author of Reclaiming Conversation, the power of talk in a digital age, Sherry Turkle on the Diane Rehm Show.

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