In thinking about email the other day, I also started thinking about what makes a conversation a conversation and why communicating across different platforms – whether its email, Facebook, Twitter or in person – feels so different to me.
At its core, a conversation is an exchange of energy.
It makes me think of an exhibit they used to have at the Boston Museum of Science that I loved as a kid. It was a bike attached to a light bulb. If you got on the bike and began to peddle, the lightbulb would slowly light up. As long as you kept peddling, the light would stay on.
I think of conversations the same way. The words back and forth between people are the flow of energy that keeps that lightbulb lit. The conversations that feel the best to me are the ones that generate enough momentum and energy to keep the bulb burning brightly. I walk away from those conversations feeling exhilarated and energized.
That’s why I sometimes have a hard time feeling energized by conversations with people who are slow conversational responders: people who pause for a really, really long time before they say anything back. As I’m waiting for their response, the lightbulb starts to dim.
Thinking about conversations this way also illuminates for me why I like Twitter so much better than email and Facebook. Email and Facebook are slow. They feel almost static in comparison to Twitter. There is little opportunity for the light bulb to even light up, never mind keep glowing. But with Twitter, the lightbulb can start to glow very quickly and then can glow brighter and brighter as more people join the conversation.