A few days ago, I was listening to a corporate communications consultant talk about the lack of dialogue in the digital age and how kids today are no longer able to connect meaningfully. He was suggesting formal networking events to "force" people to dialogue.
While it is true that the younger generation has lost some sophistication in interpersonal communication, due to the fast, easy, democratic digital message exchange, I do not agree with the drastic proposition being made.
Dialogue comes first from connection. It is impossible to force two people to dialogue unless they have made some connection to each other first. Did you ever make the experiment of telling your significant other "sit down, we need to talk" only to see his/her eyes desperately looking for an escape door of any kind from the room? However, if you first engage him or her in an activity, a walk together, something fun that creates a connection between the two of you, isn't it a lot easier, smoother to talk then? This is why I do not believe in formal "networking" sessions as a way to teach kids to communicate.
Also, I have the feeling that we are missing out on some really important element when we complain that the younger generation has lost the ability to dialogue. I think we are judging them by our own standards of what dialogue is: two persons communicating through the sharing of a physical space. Which is not necessarily and always good dialogue. And often, unilateral communication rather than dialogue.
A professor teaching students. One way communication. A priest or pastor preaching at mass. One way communication. A supervisor giving instructions to his subordinates. One way communication. A textbook. One way communication. A dance teacher teaching a routine. One way communication.
This is what we grew up with. What if dialogue needs to be redefined by new standards? Kids now are challenging each other to learn new dance tricks and routines, and they are doing so not through a dance class teacher, but by training through Youtube videos and challenging each other to step up their game! Just look at this really inspiring talk by Chris Anderson on TED.com . They connect through different means and then dialogue in a different way. The same is happening with wikis and other open source workspaces.
Does it match our idea of what dialogue should be? Probably not. But is it dialogue nonetheless? We should at least pose ourselves the question. Ray Kurzweil (www.kurzweilaiAI.com) in his scientific, though controversial, book The Singularity is Near predicts that in 10-20 years we will all be able to integrate our human intelligence with artificial intelligence implants (much like we are already able to substitute artificial organs in our body), and one of the perks of this "intelligence upgrade" is that we will be able to access, live, and connect with others through, virtual realities. We will have intellectual abilities we cannot even fathom at the moment and connect through others in new ways.
Does it match our idea of what human intelligence is, or should be? Probably not. But is it intelligence nonetheless? We should at least pose ourselves the question.