“I don’t read anymore; I just talk to people who have.” — Dr. Tom Malloy, University of Utah

Dr. Malloy’s tongue-in-cheek comment sparked an interesting conversation about… well… conversation. When two people have a conversation, they act as proxies for the many ideas in their heads which are drawn from the many things they have read. In effect, a conversation is a many-to-many interaction that is both mediated and moderated by the participants. The individuals catalog, sort, tag, and filter ideas as they are drawn into the shared space of the conversation.

The upshot of this is that the memes, or actual ideas, gain a tremendous advantage in establishing new connections when conversations happen. Similar to Dawkin’s principle of the “selfish gene,” these “selfish memes” promote their longevity every time humans converse. For memes, the conversation is like sex, an opportunity to mingle, merge, and generate offspring that will outlast them.

Moreover, the use of the Internet, cell phones, and social software has greatly increased the number of conversations happening at any given moment via chat, newsgroups, discussion forums, and even comment-savvy blogs. Without a doubt, the potential for survival of various memes has skyrocketed as these channels have emerged.

But the great thing about all this is that conversation gives us an incredible way of processing the world as we move into an age of relentless and omnipresent information. Rather than setting up a really clever RSS reader using technology, just go talk to someone who reads blogs. Rather than spend hours organizing bookmarks, just ask around for what’s useful when you need it.

I discovered a while back that I could get what I need faster by asking someone else than by looking for it myself — precisely because of the time it takes to process the glut of information now available on any given topic (just hit google sometime and you’ll see what I mean)!

So, the real value of communicative technologies like social software is that they re-enable and enhance our ability to use a time-tested means of information processing, i.e. the conversation, in new and interesting ways!

Now stop reading this and go have a conversation with someone. 🙂

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