The Alarming Decline in American Authentic Dialogue

BY CHRISTOPHER LOCHHEAD

I fear the value of authentic dialogue is dying in America.

Stanford research shows us that people are caring more about themselves and less for others.

Clearly, social media plays a role.

When you can swipe people away on Tinder or yell at people you will never meet on Twitter, a drop in empathy is seems predictable.

The Stanford data exposes how bad it is. The average American in 2009 is less empathic than 75% of people in 1979. 

When the number of views on TikTok is a proxy for your value as a person, people’s brains get perverted.

Today the goal, we’ve been sold, is getting “followers”.

Not building relationships.

Now people want to be “influencers”. People are told to share their story.

Not listen. Not collaborate. Not learn. Not teach. But influence.

Social media hustle pornstars sell people on using social media to build their “personal brand”. Not to connect with others. Not to communicate. But to “put out content”. A hundred pieces a day.

And try having a civil discourse with someone on Reddit or Facebook. It’s fucking hard.

I try all the time. I’ve been threatened with violence. For trying to engage with people I disagree with, in a thoughtful, respectful way.

But I don’t think we can blame it all of social media.

Now more than ever, the political bifurcation of traditional media has gone mental.

And, the problem is not all media driven.

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the legendary Sapiens, argues that for the first time in history, the enemy of Americans, is other Americans.

The lack of interest in curious conversation is also a giant mind set problem.

At the core of this problem is a massive drop in the way Americans value authentic dialogue.

Way back in the day, many cared about becoming a “good conversationalist”. Yes, conversationalist.

A word that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been replaced in the dictionary with “selfie”.

Therefore, conversation is a skillset that is no longer considered a virtue.

Many people today think the purpose of a discussion is to win. At one point changing your mind was called learning.

Today it’s called flip-flopping.

Way back in the day, people viewed conversations as a way to get to know someone. Get ideas out on the table and kick them around.

Debate. Discuss. Learn. Tell stories. Even disagree. But disagree, agreeably — as my Nana used to say.

And most importantly build relationship and understanding.

In his landmark book, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization”, Dr. Peter Senge of MIT makes the case for the power of authentic dialogue in organizations.

In an ironic way, technology might be the last line of defense for saving authentic dialogues from extinction.

Through podcasting. Podcasts are the only media where real conversations occur.

Other than sitting down in person with someone and talking — which I highly recommend — podcasts are the only medium that offer the ability to capture and share un-edited, un-constrained discussion.

It is insane to me that we went through an entire election in the US, without the candidates going on a podcast to have a real debate.

Instead, we got the sound bite bullshit of two minutes for this, and thirty seconds for that on TV. Fucking stupid. Especially when there are no time constraints on a podcast.

It is also clear, that we need to learn to be human with each other in the digital world.

This is a new skill set that we need to both cultivate and promote. To get out of our algorithm-imposed echo chambers and learn how to have real conversations.

With people we disagree with. Agreeably. Digitally.

This is a seminal time in our history.

We will either have civil discourse or civil war.

This is the time to elevate the value of authentic dialogue. In person. And online.

Because only through truly communicating and connecting with each other, can we create a more perfect union.

NOTE: The wickedest problem of all just might be reconciling differing worldviews. See this paper >>

CHRISTOPHER LOCHHEAD  is a #1 Apple Business Podcaster, #1 Amazon Marketing author, and a “Godfather of Category Design”. 

Lochhead has been an advisor to over 50 venture-backed startups, is a venture capital limited partner and a former three-time Silicon Valley public company CMO (Vantive, Scient, Mercury Interactive), and entrepreneur.Lochhead hosts the award-winning dialogue podcast “Follow Your Different” and award-winning “Lochhead on Marketing” podcast and is co-author of two international bestsellers: Niche Down and Play Bigger.