Talking the Talk at Conversation Day

by Barbara Yerkes

A volunteer for Conversations New York leads a discussion about happiness.
A volunteer for Conversations New York leads a discussion about happiness.

People eager to discuss a variety of topics gathered at Bryant Park in July to join Conversation Day, an annual event dedicated to bringing people together through in-person interactions.

Anyone who was interested in participating could simply get a nametag, check the board of topics, and join a table of other people willing to talk.

The organization running the event was “Conversations New York”, whose goal is to encourage New Yorkers to engage in meaningful, face-to-face conversations to promote a better understanding of other humans and their perspectives. The nonprofit started in November 2012, and this was their third annual event.

Trained volunteers were stationed at each table to keep the conversations lively, and to make sure each participant was contributing.

Volunteer Sally Moses of Brooklyn said the appeal behind the conversations is that, “You can talk about anything and be as open as you want because you probably will never see the person again in a city like New York.”

We’re celebrating the soul of New York. Our collective ideas, feelings, intuitions, hopes, concerns, anger” said Ronald Gross, founder and director of Conversations New York. “I would want (the participants) to get is a reminder that it’s really fun and enjoyable and rewarding.”

Conversations New York holds conversations every day in a smaller format, to encourage people daily to pursue more human interaction.

Related article: How Social is Social Media?

How Social is Social Media?

By Barbara Yerkes

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The conviction that we’ve lost track of the value of human conversation as part of our social, culture, intellectual and educational life”

When you walk through Washington Square Park, be careful not to run into people glued to their phone playing the latest Pokemon game, completely solitary despite being in a lively area.

Or maybe when you grab lunch with a friend, you notice her scrolling through Instagram and checking her Facebook feed more than contributing to a conversation. As you look around, you might see similar scenes happening at each table.

Millennials, people born after 1980 according to Pew Research Center, receive a negative view about their cell phone use from older generations, particularly because of the large amount of time spent on phones.

“Looking around seeing everyone on their phones in the middle of a beautiful park on a sunny day makes me sad for this generation. Back in my day we had conversations with each other,” said Greenwich local Emma Bamdorf, 53.

Although the initial purpose of the cell phone was to increase conversations, 84% of teens aged 16 to 18 in an informal survey said that since they started using their phones, they actually talk to their friends less.

In an attempt to increase face-to-face communication, organizations have been created solely to bring people together to talk with each other.

Conversations New York” is a group where trained volunteers plan meetings around the city where people can go to sit down and have a conversation about anything ranging from politics to love.

Ronald Gross, founder and director of “Conversations New York,” said the inspiration for this group came from, “The conviction that we’ve lost track of the value of human conversation as part of our social, culture, intellectual and educational life… I want people to get a reminder that it’s really fun and enjoyable and rewarding and profitable.”

But with the growing consumption of social media, is conversation just growing on a different platform?

Ninety-two percent of teens reported that most of the time spent on their phones was on social media applications, the most prominently used being Instagram and Snapchat to post photos and videos. 

The move from face-to-face conversation to online doesn’t necessarily mean there is a lack of communication, or is detrimental to human interaction.

Sophia Klass, 17, of the Upper East Side said, “social media and phones in general allow teens to keep in touch with each other, especially because we’re always busy with academics and extracurriculars.”

Other teens stated that using phones too much only becomes a problem in large social situations if everyone is on their phone instead of talking to each other. Some said that their only negative is the distraction it can create at school.

Besides social media, other types of apps that take up time are gaming oriented,where they can be played anywhere on a mobile device.

With the recent release of the wildly popular Niantic app “Pokemon Go,” players travel with their phones to catch Pokemon, level up, and advance in the game with the use of real time location and activity tracking.

This new development in apps has created a new sense of being attached to a phone, as users everywhere are thoroughly attached to their mobile device. While some people see this as “teenagers being addicted to their phones,” most players just view it as a fun and interactive way to play a game, and actually have met people while playing.

Some of the negative stigma results from the fact that the new Millenial generation grew up with technological advancements, where older generations were introduced to it later on in life.

“There’s such an unfair blame put onto teenagers about being on their phones too much, but they allow us to stay connected, and have interactions that we wouldn’t be able to have without them. It only becomes a problem when used in extreme,” said 16 year old Amber Deshawn of Lower Manhattan.

For more on Conversations New York