The not-so-lost art of conversation?

Last night and Tuesday night were my last two nights of classes this
term. I’d forgotten the end-of-term feeling: one part nostalgia, one
part "yikes, I’ve still got to take an exam and hand in two final
projects," one part "onward!". On Tuesday night we learned about project
management and systems implementation in my systems analysis class;
last night, in Information Resources and Services, was all about
Library 2.0, which was very exciting.* Our professor pointed us toward Karen
Schneider’s recent Library 2.0 Cookbook presentation, and one phrase jumped
out at me: "information as conversation." Which, in a library context,
means a move away from the notion that the information is a commodity we hand out (here are some books and
articles for you, here’s where to find X, Y, and Z) and towards an
environment where the users of the library are much more involved and participatory. Libraries for the age of mash-ups and social networks and
blogging, among other things.

Then today I was browsing around if:book, the blog of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and read a tantalizing post about "n-dimensional reading and writing spaces": ways to present research so that it can be read in a non-linear way, and so that readers can comment, annotate, and reply. Which seemed very much in line with the information-as-conversation concept. I think it would be completely fascinating if more scholarship went in this direction. (Though, from a preservation standpoint, also a big pain in the butt challenging.)

And I’ve been thinking, in completely other contexts, about whether it’s true that conversation is a lost or disappearing art. I haven’t read Stephen Miller’s book on the subject yet (and I suspect, from the reviews on Amazon, that he and I hold rather different points of view where technology is concerned).** But "information as conversation" seems to fit into a larger preoccupation with how people connect with each other. I wish I knew how to translate that preoccupation into a way to effect some kind of actual change, even at a small scale.

No conclusions, just thoughts. Discuss? Converse?

I’m never more aware of the multiple audiences I’m talking to than when
I’m talking about concepts that have been floating around the library
world for a while but are probably all Greek to the non-librarians
reading this. Speaking of conversation and what’s necessary to sustain it.

** And when I searched for this book on Amazon, the first two hits were How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends and The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk. So maybe Miller’s right and people really don’t have a clue how to talk to each other.

2 Responses to “The not-so-lost art of conversation?”

  1. brd says:

    Not a librarian, but I find this discussion very interesting. Certainly as a techno-communicator, i.e. I’m in publications, which keeps moving from print to online to print to online, and I understand the dilemna of figuring out how to communicate best, next. Today I was in a discussion with someone about whether a wiki might serve as a base for publishing a state policy manual for the department of human services.
    I think the challenge in the world of information technology is moving from the idea that all information needs to be catalogued to something different, maybe that information has to be made traceable or trackable, a thread, like a conversation.

  2. Amanda says:

    Yes, I can see that — I’ve also heard it said that someday, people will wonder what it was like when books didn’t “talk” to each other. Which strikes me as not that implausible in the long run.