We are perceived in relationships to be subjects we are willing to talk about. It was amazing to pay attention to the kinds of conversations that I have on a normal week and their influences on my overall mood and well-being.
Conversations seem to be a way to know each other in a deeper meaningful way. We can know a person not only by the way they talk but also by the kind of topics they like to discuss. When we are able to look deeply into how we express ourselves we are able to observe what our deeper interests and desires are.
Most of the time we take this exercise for granted, just letting any given conversation flow and not paying much attention to what’s being said. But this approach seems to be rather empty. Our ability to observe together in conversation marks a very important milestone on the path to self-knowledge.
Conversations are also an important part of the environment where they are being held. It’s a way to express how you are feeling in the here and now.
About the experiment
For a little bit more than 2 weeks, I began to log every single small talk that I had at work. There were a few guides in order to create this data visualization:
1 – Any conversation had to pass the “how is your day going” barrier. For example, if the conversation was a simple “hi, how are you” it didn’t count.
2 – Even if it wasn’t necessarily at NAS it needed to be between people who share a common working space. So the coffee shop across the road counted.
I recorded every conversation with a simple note on my phone or a post-it note in my pocket. I didn’t record what was been said, but rather what I perceived to be the overall tone of the conversation.
Red: this meant that most of the conversation was negative. Examples of this topic would be chats related to burnout, gossip, complaint, anger, etc.
Green: this means that most of the conversation was positive. Examples of these topics would be chats related to dreams, hope, funny stories, spirituality, etc.
Yellow: this means that the talk has red and green in similar quantities.
It was incredible to be able to visualize the hard data on the overall sentiment of my coworkers. To be fair, this data visualization was made during a very complicated period at NAS. We had the two biggest shows of the year, and every department was under a very tight deadline.
There are three main areas for small talk in the school: the staff kitchen, the vending machine, and the cafe across the road.
The staff kitchen: This place is the one I visit most. I work right next door, and I drink a lot of water, so I’m constantly filling up my bottle. Since all the operational staff is concentrated in this building, chances are that you are going to meet someone there every single time. People here expressed tiredness and burnout most of the time. The most common line was “I need a break.”
Most of the positive conversations were held at the cafe across the road. My interpretations here are that when you are inside the school, people don’t feel completely free to express their opinion, because they think (and it’s actually a fact) that there will be always someone listening.
On the vending machine (Building 5) there were the most negative conversations (especially gossip). This place is a bit far away from the departments and offers a “safer” environment to just express your frustrations.
Over the last week, there was a new space, that was recently opened to the public. I was able to only record 3 different conversations there.
How do we communicate all the emotions and visual stimuli of a film that we really love to someone that is not able to see?
This was an interesting exercise. It forced me to actually be an active creator of the meaning that was happening on the screen. It made me realize that sometimes we are only looking at things rather than observing them. I feel that when we actually describe something we are putting more attention to it.
Almost every aspect of this exercise is based on trying to observe with a different sense. Are we able to see with our ears, or taste with our eyes?
It reminded me of the concept of “synesthesia”, or the ability to mix senses.
I remember when I was a child if my grandma told me a story I didn’t need any visual stimuli to imagine how would it be. I think this exercise connected me with this ability to imagine in great detail things that I might not be able to see, like Chile winning the World Cup of soccer, or me scoring the final goal.
Alt Text as Poetry
- A DJ with glasses is showing a blonde girl how to use a DJ deck. They are both pointing at the deck and he seems to be giving directions on how to use the knobs. She is looking at him very attentively. It’s a nighttime photo with a bright green light on the background. They are both happy.
- A nighttime photo of a DJ teaching a young girl how to operate a DJ deck. She looks at him while he shows her how to use the knobs of the deck.
- A happy nighttime photo of a DJ teaching a girl how to use a deck.
- A photo of a set of rubbish that was left on the street. There is a bike wheel, some furniture stands, a cardboard box, and green container and a polyurethane box. There is also a splash of paint on the floor. They are all on a brick wall, and it resembles a modern art masterpiece.
- A funny photo of rubbish on the street that resembles in some way to a modern art masterpiece. There are pieces of bikes, boxes and furniture.
- A funny photo of rubbish that resembles a modern art masterpiece.
- A picture inside an art gallery of a wall full of 40 artworks hanging. Different sizes and colours. There are set on a white wall and a wooden floor. There is a door at the end and an escape sign that is green.
- A picture of a wall in an art gallery with 40 artworks of different sizes and colours. There is a wooden floor and a door and the end.
- A bright wall in an art gallery with 40 artworks of different sizes.
This is a bit harder than it looks. How do we say a lot trying to cut down words? In the last exercise (Audio describing) there didn’t seem to be a limit on how many words we could use. In this exercise, I felt that I needed to iterate my previous description and distil the essence of what was being communicated.
Making the complex simple is an artwork in itself. In an ever-complexing world, it is more valuable than ever to reduce the unnecessary baggage in our day-to-day communications. Alt Text allows us to observe and try to make it simpler.
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”Steve Jobs
Part 1: Mapping conversation networks
The way I chose to create this map was by subject matter. My usual conversational links on a normal week include (mainly): workplace (colleagues), family, friends and studies. I made a distinction between family and friends since most of my close ones are in Chile and have no connection to Australia.
What surprised me (and still surprises me) was how many topics were mentioned or discussed at work. I spend most of my day at the office, so the connections with all the other parts of my life are limited to a certain number of hours a week. As a result, delving deeply into any subject is difficult.
Even though most of the types of conversations I love to engage in are in the realms of philosophy, art, and spirituality, I don’t usually go deep enough at work to be meaningful. My wife’s family is conservative, so deep conversations about life (or art) are scarce or nonexistent. They are more focused on daily problems.
1.1 – Types of people I connect with
– Direct colleagues: marketing office, photographer, coordinator
– Indirect colleagues: everyone at NAS, from the security guard to the people at the cafe, to the upper chain of command.
– Wife’s family
– Chilean family (my mom and bothers)
– Friends from Chile
– Friends from Australia
– People at the MCISI
– People in other courses I’ve taken
Part 2: the conversation cafe
For this exercise, I selected 5 people with whom I have regular conversations on any given week: my wife, my mom (close connected), Peter, Karli (friends from work) and Judy (colleague, she’s the security guard at NAS).
2.1 – Individual conversations
- Person’s name: Isabella (wife)
- Before: Ideas (specifically what are we doing during holidays)
- After: the meaning of why are we doing what we are doing.
- Reflection: It’s very easy to get deep because there is a shared feeling of trust where we are able to explore ourselves in our conversations.
- Person’s name: Monica (mom, from Chile)
- Before: Update on how are we doing.
- After: Deeper sharing of spiritual points of view regarding burnout
- Reflection: My mom, being a very spiritual person, has the power to turn every conversation into a philosophy class about life and meaning.
- Person’s name: Peter (work colleague)
- Before: What are we doing for the holidays?
- After: Reason why to stay at this job.
- Reflection: Peter is a very smart person with a lot of dreams. We chitchat about pretty much anything (from soccer to the weather). We have a lot of respect for each other and try to solve together our problems related to the outlook on our futures as artists and professionals. We talk about art a lot.
- Person’s name: Karli (work colleague)
- Before: How is she feeling at NAS
- After: Her dreams and hopes for the future.
- Reflection: Karli is a very upbeat and nice person. She has professional dreams that sadly are not being fulfilled in the current environment. UPDATE: she quit her job at NAS.
- Person’s name: Judy
- Before: How’s the weather?
- After: Laughing about making a barbeque in the middle of NAS.
- Reflection: We don’t know each other well enough to do deeper into different subjects other than what’s at hand, which is work. We are able to not take it seriously, but we don’t go deeper into our dreams and stories.
Insights and reflections
I’ve definitely been taking conversations for granted. Most of the time I don’t think about what I talk about, but from this exercise, I was able (and asked to) pay attention to the feelings and subjects we are talking about.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned from this is that I connect deeper when people are willing (or able) to go into more interesting subjects like art, philosophy, or spirituality. I think it requires a great deal of trust to talk about this kind of thing. These conversations turned out to be more meaningful.
When we couldn’t pass the “chitchat” barrier I felt that I was wasting my time. Usually, every conversation started with some sort of chitchat, “how’s the weather?” seemed to be the most common one. After that, only a few transformed themselves into actual deep and meaningful connections.
Conversations are very important, not only for connecting with others but also to learn about ourselves. What we talk about seems to be how we get perceived.