In Conversation: A History of a Declining Art, Stephen Miller questions the relevance of conversation for a society that is becoming more solipsistic by the day. As technology decreases opportunities for face-to-face interaction and isolates individuals behind iPods and computer screens, he argues, conversation can seem increasingly obsolete. Miller, who focuses primarily on oral interchange, is right to lament the erosion of politeness and conversational decorum that has accompanied the shift to a more individualized society and to ponder whether ‘conversation avoidance device[s]’ (282) like digital music players and video games promote or inhibit sociability. Yet he overlooks the extent to which written conversation is flourishing in place of and in conjunction with oral interaction. In developed countries, our days are infused with, sometimes even dominated by, textual conversation. Email beckons; instant messaging allows textual conversation to approximate oral interchange in real time; text messaging and online chatting have prompted a twenty-first-century version of epistolary codes designed to prevent parents from eavesdropping on teenagers’ conversations; chat rooms enable individuals to assume fantasy personae and to take advantage of the protection and freedom afforded by alternative social spaces.
KeywordsChat Room Instant Messaging Political Agency Online Chat Online Social Networking Site
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