A few years ago, I read a book called Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle. I teach an excerpt from this book in my English Composition course during our visual rhetoric unit. Students tend to identify with the truths Turkle articulates in this text. Some have thought about the contemporary moment before, but some students open their eyes to technology’s pull for the first time after reading this text. I know that’s hard for some of us to believe, and I am newly surprised each time student’s examine their habits for the first time. My goal in reading this text in class is less about promoting a pro-technology or anti-technology position. Rather, I just try to introduce students to the arguments both for and against the complete dominance of technology and let them make up their minds. When it comes to writing and rhetoric, this topic tends to teach students how very nuanced a topic is and how to write an argument in a way that appreciates various insights.
Sherry Turkle takes her argument one step farther in her more recent book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. This time her main focus is the culture’s loss of conversation. Each chapter exposes the deep cultural need to rethink the importance of conversation. While these arguments are not necessarily new, seeing these chapters side by side is freshly convicting. Not only do our screens interrupt our ability to think and create, they also contribute to shallow connections between family, friends, students, and colleagues. One of the most eye-opening articulations was how the mere presence of a phone on a table or in a hand during conversation keeps the conversation from reaching a certain depth. Whether this is with your child, a romantic partner, or a friend, I think it’s important that we consider how each moment we hold onto our electronic security blanket, we distance ourselves just a little bit from that person.
When I was goal setting for this year, I was already starting to think about how I might be able to stay connected to my friends and reclaim conversation in my world. We recently moved to Virginia from California, but more than that, we move every three years. It used to be easy for me to make a phone call and reconnect with friends I haven’t spoken to in a while, but once we had our first child, this felt impossible. He took up all of the leisure time I used to have. I always call my friends on their birthdays, an actual phone call where I hear their voice or leave them a message, and during my son’s first year of life, I don’t think I managed a single phone call on a friend’s actual birthday. As 2017 got closer and I started thinking about goals, I decided I needed to work harder at carving out time for friendship, especially since we were expecting our second child.
Sherry Turkle writes, “We’ll go further in reclaiming conversation if we create environments that support that conversation.” That is exactly what I aim to do this year. I know my friends and I don’t need an excuse or reason to talk. Catching up on life is enough, but I want to grow with my friends and the best way I can think to do that is by reading with them. The neat thing about having all of your friends on Goodreads is that you often end up reading books and talking about them purely based on mutual interest. This year I decided to be a little more intentional.
I have asked one friend to read a book with me each month. They get to choose the book and my only request is that it is something neither of us have read before and that they think we’ll both enjoy. We’ll spend that month reading it, and then we’ll have a conversation about it. It’s really that simple. So far all of the friends I have asked have been pretty enthusiastic about it. I only planned up to June, mostly because not everyone is as super nerdy as me and plans out what books they are reading for the entire year. Here are a handful of ways I have found to celebrate friendship, reclaim conversation, and connect with your friends over books.
Read 1 Book a Month With a Different Friend
Ask a different friend to read a book with you each month. Give them a heads up and be sure to ask if the month you have in mind is good for their schedule. Some of my friends are in school and others have intense seasons at work, so I am careful to consider these things when asking them to read with me. Let them choose the book and request that it is something neither of you have read before and that they think you’ll both enjoy.
Start a Mind-Blowing Book Club
Book clubs don’t need to be overwhelming. I’ve been a part of book clubs that meet once a month and barely anyone managed to read the book. Now that we meet together once a season, everyone comes to book club prepared and energized. Whether your book club is with friends, at church or with work colleagues, you’ll start to build a collective consciousness and camaraderie with other minds. These bonds only strengthen over time. Read more HERE.
Find a Reading Partner (or 3)
I have a few friends I regularly read books with. My friend Bethany and I are the most consistent. We read one book a month together on topics that interest both of us. So far we have read fiction together, parenting books, and books on business and entrepreneurship. It’s comforting to know I’ll have someone to talk to about what I’m reading at the end of a book. Whether it’s once in a blue moon or on a consistent basis, this is the greatest gift a friend could give me because it means they want to explore the world of ideas with me and grow together. Read more HERE.
Give Your Friends Books Instead of Birthday Cards
Most birthday cards these days are $4 or $5 and you can often send your friend a Kindle book for that same amount or less. If you want to send a physical book, then you’ll probably only pay around $10 to do it. Books are by far the best gift you can give, especially if you have read the selection yourself or your willing to read it with a friend. You’re not just giving a book, but your giving a piece of yourself and an experience. My friend Bethanie reads books and then pays a few bucks to send them to friends she thinks will appreciate them. She even includes beautifully written personal notes on the inside cover. Books are by far my favorite gifts to receive and to give.
As much as I would love for all of these conversations to happen in the presence of my friends and family so that we can make eye contact and really connect, I will settle for an actual phone call when a cup of coffee is not possible.
So tell me, how do you use books to connect with friends? What else can I add to my list?