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大学英语四级美文欣赏:互联网让我们不再交谈?        来源:沪江英语        发布时间:2012-10-29 20:41:40
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As our meeting places fall silent, save for tapping on screens, it seems we have mistaken ubiquitousconnection for the real thing.

  I first noticed it in a restaurant. The place was strangely quiet, and at one table a group seemed deep in prayer. Their heads were bowed, their eyes hoodedand their hands in their laps. I then realised that every one, young and old, was gazing at a handheld phone. People strolledthe street outside likewise, with arms crooked at right angles, necks bent and heads in potentially crippling postures. Mothers with babies were doing it. Students in groups were doing it. They were like zombies on call. There was no conversation.

  Every visit to California convinces me that the digital revolution is over, by which I mean it is won. Everyone is connected. The New York Times last week declared the death of conversation. While mobile phones may at last be falling victim to etiquette, this is largely because even talk is considered too intimatea contact. No such bar applies to emailing, texting, messaging, posting and tweeting. It is ubiquitous, the ultimate connectivity, the brain wired full-time to infinity.

  The MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that her students are close to mastering the art of sustaining eye contact with a person while texting someone else. It is like an organist playing different tunes with hands and feet. To Turkle, these people are "alone together …a tribe of one". Anyone with 3,000 Facebook friends has none.

  The audience in a New York theatre now sit, row on row, with lit machines in their laps, looking to the stage occasionally but mostly scrolling and tapping away. The same happens at meetings and lectures, in coffee bars and on jogging tracks. Children are apparently developing a dexterityin their thumbs unknown since the evolution of the giant sloth. Talk is reduced to the muttered, heads-down expletives brilliantly satirisedin the BBC's Twenty Twelve.

  Psychologists have identified this as "fear of conversation". People wear headphones as "conversational avoidance devices". The internet connects us to the entire world, but it is a world bespoke, edited, deleted, sanitised. Doubt and debate become trivial because every statement can be instantly verified or denied by Google. There is no time for the thesis, antithesis, synthesis of Socratic dialogue, the skeleton of true conversation.

  There is now apparently a booming demand for online "conversation" with robots and artificialvoices. Mobiles come loaded with customised "girlfriends". People turn to computerised dating advisers, even claim to fall in love with their on-board GPS guides. A robot seal can be bought to sit and listen to elderly people talk, tiltingits head and blinking in sympathy.

  We have, says Turkle, confused connection with conversation – "the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship". Human friendship is rich, messy and complicated. It requires patience and tolerance, even compromise. As we push other people off into a world of question and answer, connection and information, friendship becomes ersatz virtuality.

  In his history of conversation, Stephen Miller points out that "most Americans are nowadays concerned more with improving their sex life than their conversation life". Even the phone is pass. Those who used to call a friend in trouble now send a text. Phone calls are to register urgency or shout anger, with corresponding loss of nuanceand sensibility. From Mailer to Eminem, the modern cultural hero is expressionist. He or she has "attitude", and to prove it uses the F-word as often as possible.

  Miller notes that public discourse is dominated by contention, by "intersecting monologues". Anger, lack of inhibition, "letting it all hang out" are treated as assets in public debate, in place of a willingness to listen and adjust one's point of view. Politics thus becomes a platform of rival angers. American politicians are ever more polarised, reduced to conveying a genuine hate for each other.

  Likewise, the lack of tolerance in American Christianity can be as frightening as it can in Islam. When I once professed support for IVF, a man glared across the table, tight-jawed, and asked: "What does it feel like to be a mass murderer?" With such people there is no conversation, only a tiptoeing from the room.

  All that said, the death of conversation has been announced as often as that of the book. Samuel Johnson and David Hume worried that the decline of political conversation would lead to violent civil discord. George Orwell concluded that "the trend of the age was away from creative communalamusements and toward solitary mechanical ones". The philosopher Michael Oakeshott professed himself desperate to "rescue the art of conversation". Somehow we have muddled through.

  The "post-digital" phenomenon, the craving for live experience, is showing a remarkable vigour. The US is a place of ever greater congregation and migration, to parks, beaches and restaurants, to concerts, rock festivals, ball games, religious rallies. Affinity groups frantically seek escape from the digital dictatorship, using Facebook and Twitter not as destinations but as portals, as route maps to human contact.

  A hundred online universities are no substitute for a live campus any more than Facebook is a substitute for sex or Twitter for debate. Gatherings such as Burning Man and Coachella have revived the medieval pilgrimage, with tens of thousands crossing mountains and deserts to spend from $100 to $1,000 a weekend to commune with like-minded souls. They talk. They even converse.

  Somewhere in this cultural morassI am convinced the zest for human contact will preserve the qualities that Plato and Plutarch, Johnson and Hume identified as essential for a civilised life, qualities of politeness, listening and courtesy. Those obsessed with faddishconnectivity and personal avoidance are not escaping reality. They are not TS Eliot's misanthropicPrufrock, "a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas". Deep down they still crave friendship. They just want a better class of talk.

  With that in mind, my editor has asked me to offer up a few practical suggestions and conversational cautions.

  How to open a good conversation:

  1) Immediately show an interest in the other person.

  2) Try to extract an opinion of some sort, and reasons for it. Never disagree with it openly, but try to construct a dialogue based on it.

  3) Never ask intimate questions, unless invited to do so.

  4) Always be the one to change the subject if the going gets rough.

  5) Try to leave the conversation in good repair should it be interrupted.

  Five of the worst conversational openings:

  1) You must be very busy these days.

  2) Do you live round here?

  3) Do you have any children?

  4) Will it never stop raining?

  5) Gosh, this party is boring.


  tap on 在……上轻敲

  ubiquitous adj. 普遍存在的;无所不在的

  gaze at 盯住;凝视

  etiquette n. 礼节,礼仪;规矩

  intimate adj. 亲密的;私人的

  compromise n. 妥协;让步

  F-word n. 粗话;脏话

  public discourse 公共话语;公共讨论

  contention n. 争辩;争论

  crave for 渴望

  congregation n. 集合;集会

  revive v. 复活;复兴

  pilgrimage n. 漫游;朝圣

  commune with 与……谈心

  morass n. 困境

  zest n. 强烈的兴趣

  courtesy n. 礼貌;好意;恩惠

  obsessed with 非常喜欢;着迷于

  faddish adj. 风行的;流行一时的

  deep down 实际上;心底里


  Samuel Johnson:塞缪尔·约翰逊,18世纪英国作家。

  David Hume:大卫·休谟,18世纪英国哲学家、历史学家、经济学家与美学家。

  George Orwell:乔治·奥威尔,20世纪英国左翼作家,新闻记者和社会评论家。

  Burning Man:由一个名为“Black Rock City,LLC”的组织发起的反传统狂欢节,为期八天。自1986年开创以来,年年举行,举办地选在美国内华达州黑岩沙漠,来自世界各地的Burner每年同一时间在这个寸草不生的荒漠里凭空兴建起一个只有8天的寿命 “城市“,城市内唯一提供的设施是厕所,唯一售卖的物品只有冰和咖啡。8天过后,“居民”离开,所有垃圾自己打包带走,片甲不留,城市人间蒸发。Burning Man的高潮是众人在空地上围成一个很大的圈,圈的中间燃烧起一个12米高的木制男人雕像,这就是“Burning Man”名字的来历。


  Question time:

  1. What does the author think of Facebook and Twitter?

  2. Does the author suppose people obsessed with faddish connectivity and personal avoidance hate conversation?

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