Talking Heads

One of my favourite song lines of all time is from Psycho Killer by Talking Heads.  ‘You start a conversation you can’t even finish.  You’re talking a lot, but you’re not saying anything.  When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.  Say something once, why say it again?’

To me this pretty much sums up one of the problems with the way we communicate today.  Because we do say things over and over again.  We say them on twitter, we say them on facebook, we link to websites and say them again in their news sections.  We say them to the press, we say them in posters and fliers.  In marketing, in the past, the skill of how you said something, through logos and straplines, was vital.  Today, it probably takes second place to the simple matter of how often you say it.  We’re talking a lot, but are we saying anything?

I am an active user of social media.  I have used facebook pretty much from the outset, and it is now pretty much how I organise my social life.  I use twitter to talk about what I do and have struck up useful conversations with strangers, leading to advice on what to do with lemonbalm and where to go walking on holiday.  There is no doubt in my mind that these ways of communicating have transformed our lives in a positive way.

But, like every new invention, there can be a downside.  With so much information twittering about, how to we choose what to listen to.  Or do we just flit over everything, never really exploring any issue in depth.

I know that I no longer read papers.  Instead I skim the headlines online.  I scroll down my twitter updates several times a day, looking for something that takes my interest.  Sometimes I read the links people send, but mostly I just pass over them.  Sometimes I receive so many tweets that I miss some important ones entirely, because I am receiving at least two a minute.  I know that far more people will read the tweet I make about this blog than the actual blog itself (you can prove me wrong by making a comment below!)

Of course, avid twitterers would say that this only means you are not using twitter properly.  In order to gather enough followers to carry out meaningful conversations with the world at large it is necessary to tweet several times a day, preferably attaching interesting links that others can comment on.  I’ve read that, as a writer, I should be tweeting at least three times a day.  And there are times when I do. There are times when I tweet more than this, because I am genuinely bursting with things I want to tell the world, that seem to me, at that time at least, to be important.

But there are other times when, believe me, it’s better that my lips are sealed.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Sometimes, it seems to me, there’s something desperate about it all, how we all try too hard to be heard, not by saying anything interesting, or by thinking about what we have said, but just by saying it again, louder.  The desperation to say something often enough to be heard can often get in the way of the ability to say something meaningful.

As well as speaking, we need to learn to listen, to process, and to understand.  We need to take the time not just to read but to re-read.  Remember those cartoon characters who, when they bumped their heads, ended up with little birds twittering about around them.  That’s you, that is.  And me.

Social media is amazing.  It has transformed the world, and will continue to do so.  But I think a time will come when we will slow down our frenzied use of it, and consider how we can get real value from it.  We are people, not just talking heads.  We need to make time in our busy schedules to stop flitting about the treetops and tweeting like the birdbrains we may otherwise become, and take the time to say something of value.  And there are other times when, in the words of Eddie Izzard – we just need to shut the fuck up.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post
  1. Sara says:

    Wasn’t expecting the last line Ms McKenzie……. but I like it :)