Monday, January 29, 2007

I Think We Need To Talk

Have you ever wondered if the conversations you have with other people are abnormal? I have. I know what a normal conversation with me is like, but I don't know how it compares to "normal" conversations between other people. I often wonder what a "normal" conversation sounds like, and if there is, indeed, a normal conversation.

I understand that there are different levels of conversations. The first level is cliches, things like "It's been really cold, lately, eh?" Mostly about the weather, or some inanimate shared thing in the immediate vicinity. Strangers talk at this level.

The second level is that of facts. This is slightly more deep than cliches. The facts aren't necessarily about anything immediate, or even necessarily shared. But it doesn't get very personal. Business meetings would be at this level of conversation.

The third level involves talking about feelings. This gets personal. This is where friends can talk. They don't always talk at this level, but it wouldn't be odd or awkward if it did. It might seem odd if a stranger started talking about their feelings to you.

The fourth level involves "we" statements. The definition of this level seems to be qualitatively different than the other levels.

I have also noted there are two main types of conversationalists. There are Question-Askers and Story-Tellers. Pastor Jack is a Question-Asker. If you talk with him he'll generally ask you lots of questions. I, on the other hand, am a story teller. Question-Askers always seem more interesting, or at least more enjoyable to be with because they get you talking about your favorite subject: You.

Story-Tellers tell you stories instead. The problem with this is that it tends to be less back-and-forth talk, and less personal, at least less personal for you. You can only get to know someone so well if all they do is tell stories. And if the person is not a good story teller then they are boring, and you tend to not want to talk to them.

Unfortunately for Story-Tellers (and those around them), most people are not great story tellers, so Story-Tellers tend to be somewhat boring.

Now, the aforementioned levels of conversation say nothing about flow or algorithm. I find some conversations follow this algorithm:

  1. Person 1: Story.

  2. Person 2: Story.

  3. Repeat ad infinitum.

Another algorithm is:

  1. Person 1: Question.

  2. Person 2: Story. Question.

  3. Person 1: Story. Question.

  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 ad infinitum.

Anyway, I'd be interested in figuring out a conversation algorithm or algorithms. The hard part of this is listening to enough conversations that don't include me. In some instances this is pretty easy. The hard part for me is when the conversation that I am witnessing doesn't concern me, it usually bores me. Then I very quickly drift into my own world.

I would be very interested in seeing the three most common conversation algorithms, and their ratings as the most interesting to each participant, and what the level of conversation was, and possibly the topic.

Of course, it might not be the topic or algorithm that makes a conversation interesting or boring. I'd be interested in knowing all factors, and their respective weights, in the I.F. (interesting factor) of a conversation. It could be expressed as an equation.

Let A, B, C, and D be I.F.s.
I.F. = wA + xB + yC + zC
where w, x, y, and z are importance coefficients such that 0 < {w, x, y, z} <= 1

Of course, it may be more complicated than that. Who knows. Do you know? If you do, then please comment.

Maybe I should have gone into social science instead of computer science. Except for the dealing-with-people part, and the writing of reports part, and applying for grants part....Yeah, I think I went into the right field.


hollymeister said...

*coufreakgh* Besides, nobody is just one or the other it depends on the situation. That and you can get story tellers that are incredibly boring, like those ones that go on and on about how ie sucks so bad... and you can have story tellers that have you peeing yourself with laughter and begging for more. Therefore, although you could come up with an algorithm for the flow of a conversation it would not necessarily show the greatness of that conversation.

Andrew said...

That's true that the conversation algorithm may be irrelevant to how interesting the conversation is. I figure the Interesting Factor equation is very complicated. Like if algorithm is only relevant if the stories are told in a boring manner.

Which brings to mind another point. Stories can be either kill-yourself-boring or pee-yourself-funny depending on who tells them and how they tell them.

This leads to another point to keep in mind; a great story doesn't necessarily make a great conversation. I guess it depends on how you define "great conversation." If it's "a high level of emotional enjoyment attained for a majority of the time spent conversing" then a succession of great stories would make "good conversation." If the definition is "high quantities of useful information exchange per time spent conversing" then probably not.

BTW: My IE-sucks-so-bad rants aren't conversations, at least not on the blog (due to the fact no one leaves any comments). They're rants. And, as opposed to almost everything I write about on this blog, it's something that I can have a legitimate educated professional opinion about. Most of my rants come from an emotional reaction, or intellectual curiosity and should be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. But given my 5 years of formal computer education, and equal time of industry experience, most of which as a web programmer, my advice on browsers can be taken with a much smaller grain of salt.

Thanks for you comments, thus making this less of a rant and more of a conversation!