The Conversationalist: Talking Without Technology

October 17, 2011

Free conversations!

You’ve seen this, right? You’re at a lovely restaurant or coffee shop. Two friends sit across from each other and they are… updating their Facebook statuses, checking in on FourSquare or texting a friend.

While I work in that weird intersection of life and mobile, I can’t help but sometimes judge. Until this Saturday.

I was enjoying a lovely brunch with my boyfriend when he asked me to look up the hours of a store. As I did, he checked his work email and the waitress happened to pop by. She subtly rolled her eyes, but the message was received. We were those people.

Recognizing the need for imminent help, I rushed over to this Sunday’s appearance of The Conversationalist.

Taylor Baldry, The Conversationalist

The Conversationalist is Taylor Baldry’s genius.

As he describes it: “The Conversationalist is a performance art piece that invites guests to select a topic from the conversation menu…as a means to engage human interaction with a stranger without the aid of social media and technology. As users of social media, we have become consumed with one-sided, broadcast conversations that we have weakened our analog social skills that allows us to converse with friends and strangers alike.”

Taylor recently returned from Japan after a two-year teaching stint, so he also considers this conversation as practice for conversing with native English speakers.

Once a week, Taylor selects a public location, and sets up his card table and two table tents explaining the experiment. For three hours, he converses with whomever stops by.

Yesterday, he set up camp on the windy Lake Calhoun bank.

An Iowan couple who stopped by to converse

When I arrived, he was discussing Halloween costumes with a couple visiting from Iowa. As the conversation continued, it shifted to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and favorite episodes.

The couple finished their conversation with Taylor as they exchanged business cards and invited him to call into a local radio show. Next up was a woman who’d seen Taylor at a previous location.

They’d discussed a business venture last time and she confessed that her idea wasn’t well-received by other people. Taylor dismissed her fears and said it sounded brilliant. They brainstormed a few more ideas before she left to finish her walk around the lake.

Taylor’s not sure where this experiment is leading, but he knows that he wants it to grow and evolve. People who visited have emailed and asked what his next steps are.

As for me? I visited for an hour or so, shared a few ideas, learned about the location of the famous American Gothic painting, and didn’t reach for my mobile once.

Footnote: For those avid Peepshow readers who remember the DolphinHawk, yes, Taylor Baldry is its creator and a Fast Horse alumn.