sunday life: in which “deep talking” has a comeback

This week I talk deep


Remember the 90s? Ah, yes, they were such earnest, toe-gazing, reflective times. Folk would Quick Unpick the Nike logos off their sportswear (making branded statements was so tawdry), and debate whether you could wear lipstick and still be regarded a feminist.

Gosh, we cared back then!

In the 90s we’d have D & Ms. Which are not the same as DMs. Indeed the latter (a 140-charcters-or-less “direct message” on Twitter) is the antithesis of the former. Which, for those who weren’t there for the fun, stood for “deep and meaningfuls”, referring to the kind of conversations we liked to have. We’d also say “deep”, as kids today might say “fetch” or “amazeballs” or “hectic”.

Deep was good. Deep had currency.

So you can probably guess where all this is heading. As a paid up Gen Xer, I take great delight in signs that we might be harking back to “my day”. Or that the way we used to do things, I’ll have you know, was better. So of course I’m going to share with you news that deep is back. And that, better still, a new University of Arizona study shows deep conversations make you happier than small talk. The study highlights that humans are meant to delve deep – we’re programmed to find and create meaning in life and we’re driven to connect with each other.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that the past 10-15 years have seen the art of deep conversation shoved aside, along with the Reality Bites-style brown suede jackets and floral peasant dresses we all once wore. It’s been partly a time thing (we often don’t have enough of it to go beyond pleasantries), partly a technology thing (social media’s currency is short and sharp) and partly because “deep” has been deemed a downer in an era drenched in happiness doctrine and “let’s just move on” positive psychology. Many of my mates stopped reading news analysis because it “got them depressed”, which itself depressed me no end. Current affairs shows turned into gossip fests and magazines shortened their articles.

But I’m witnessing a shift. Here’s a litany of proof: The UK’s Sunday Times ran a feature recently declaring “Brainy is suddenly chic”, citing the up and up of learning groups (book clubs that are more Kierkegaard than Larsson). Everyone I know is glued to, the achingly cerebral portal featuring the best thinkers in the world speaking for under 18 minutes on a deep topic. And when they’re not, they’re going to “in conversation with” evenings on a Tuesday night at their local pub. I’ve been to two in the past month. Indeed, thinkers have become sexy. Intellect Stephen Fry is one of the most influential people on Twitter right now. Philosopher Alain de Botton is not far behind.

So this week I, of course, set out to have more D&Ms, and to see if doing so is a better option than the chat-lite diet of recent years. This entailed creating space and time; you can’t get deep on the fly or with 2010-style distractions. So, as I’ve preached here before, I created my own parameters. I turned down a party to have a quiet dinner with my friend Bill. I switched a catch-up with my friend Matt from a busy restaurant to his couch. And I took time to read the opinion pages of the Guardian, rather than just skim my igoogle homepage.

I didn’t so much worry about what was talked about; I think there are deep angles to be taken on Katie Price’s newfound interest in cage fighting, to be honest. Also, deep needn’t be dark and morose. The point is to penetrate, to peel off layers. To keep asking why, and then why again. But also to develop your own opinions, as opposed to witty soundbites and truisms (or worse, retweeting someone else’s witty soundbites and truisms).

In the process of doing so I noticed two things. First, talking deeply extends you. It’s like a game where you see what happens when you go out further on the limb. Which is not only fun (!), it also sees you reaching other people in ways you might not with an idle chat. Out on a vulnerable limb, or deep in conversation, you’re careful and mindful of what you say and give. Which creates intimacy.

Second, deep talk crowds out nasty, dangerous gossip. It’s like when you eat a hearty plate of osso bucco, it leaves no ream for fairy floss. Which is certainly a richer experience, if not a happier one.

Do you feel the same need as me to talk deeply at the moment? Got the shits with chats that are too impatient or don’t get to the heart of something, or cut corners? I hate it when chats round off with cliches, like a tabloid current affairs show. It leaves me screaming…but there’s more in my heart!!! There’s more in ALL our hearts that’s crying out to be shared!!! Don’t stop there because you’ve run out of time!!!

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