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Good Night, Chat

These days a good talk can be hard to find. We asked an expert how people can stay connected in ways that truly matter.

DM: Sure.

AF: —since in the book you say that interruptions can be refreshing in everyday exchanges. I was taken by your statement that men spend two out of every three of their conversational minutes talking about themselves, whereas women spend only about a third of their time doing so. Does that make women better conversationalists than men? Better listeners?

DM: Scottish philosopher David Hume rebelled against the coffeehouse, male-dominated culture of the 1750s. "You know," he said, "we need to have women be part of this—they're better at it than men are. Men are abstract and political and argumentative, and women are more social and binding," and so on.

But I think it's true that women have a greater sense of obligation to knitting a social fabric. I could be wrong, but that's my experience. (Hume called women the "sovereigns of the conversible world.") When it comes down to it, however—when you talk to someone in a confidential, personal, and honest way—the genders tend to melt away a little bit.

AF: I'd hate for our conversation to "diesel"—your term for the tendency of even a good talk to chug along, clunker fashion, once both parties know it is over. So can I coax "Doctor Dialogue" into prescribing a cure for the nation's conversation?

DM: I'll try—but I'll warn you that I sound like a marriage counselor when I say that you have to *make time*. You have to carve out some time where you can have a conversation as an end in itself, not as a tool to do something or get something.

Because of work pressures and time pressures, that's very tough to do right now. But I'd say it's the number one thing. If you don't lead your life so that you can allow that to happen, it won't happen.

AF: All well and good—can I get that in a nugget to go?

DM: Okay, how's this: Just shut up and talk!

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