On long form conversation

2019-03-17 11:36:27 By CaffeineAndConcrete

The clip below, taken from an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) features UFC mixed martial artists Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone who recounts a near death experience while cave diving. The story emerged as their conversation progressed, and I remember as I listened to it, how the tone of the conversation turned; Joe, silent the whole time, either by interviewer expertise or enthrallment, or both. Something special was happening.

Cerrone's storytelling was brilliant, but beyond the story, the clip showcases the power of unscripted, long form conversation, in which, when given time, someone can articulate their thoughts and feelings and capture attention when perhaps, they might be dismissed as a "cage fighter" out of hand.

Joe Rogan has made it very clear that by engaging the way he does on his show, he is giving himself and his audience a chance to understand alternative views but also interrogate the opinions of others. He once put it like so;

"I think open conversations are critical and also, this is probably going to be unpopular but I don't think the way to do it is in front of a large group of people. You open yourself up to a lot of grand standing, a lot of saying things just for a lot of applause breaks. There's a lot of bullshit-- it changes the nature of the conversation because it becomes theatre. You're doing it in front for-- and you can hear a lot of these times people say things, I know because I'm a comic, they're saying things FOR a reaction. There's a way you say it "AND THAT'S WHAT WE WANT!" And everyone goes "Yeah!" [Claps]. You do not talk like that when it's just you and a person. When it's just you and a person, you are alone with your ideas and I think that is the way a guy like Ben Shapiro, and whoever you are on the left should have a discussion."

You can watch the full clip on YouTube.

Joe's podcast has become a major platform for open, honest dialogue and he has been able to host guests he both agrees and disagrees with on certain topics. Always doing so respectfully. His methods allow listeners to hear every side on important issues and let them make informed decisions about where they stand and at the very least, be more empathetic to the feelings of others who differ in opinion or ideology.

Recently, on episode #1258 of JRE, Joe hosted Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, along with Vijaya Gadde (responsible for global legal, policy, and trust and safety at Twitter) and vocal independent journalist Tim Pool.

Tim believes social-media platforms like Twitter are injecting ideology into their policies, especially in regards to who does or doesn't get banned, which goes against the very nature of free-speech and Jack's own admission that Twitter is a right for everyone.

This episode could easily have become a screaming match, with everyone shouting over each other, however Joe's format and ability to facilitate enables a respectful conversation in which everyone gets ample time to have their say. As opposed to this episode of Q&A, during Jordan Peterson's tour of Australia, where everyone's "minute" is constantly running out; breaking trains of thought, interesting streams of consciousnesses and attempts at clear articulation of ideas when responding to complex audience questions.

The Q&A panel demonstrates exactly what Joe is talking about in regards to playing to the audience and interruption in the traditional, broadcast television attempts at serious debate. The format simply doesn't suit the needs of the content.

It's easy to understand why the popularity in long form podcasts has emerged and why there are people paying YouTubers "super chats" just to ask a question about the topics they are interested in.


How did we get here?

The past fifteen years, in which I've spent working as a product designer in digital content, eCommerce, marketing and media, has seen a rapid move toward soundbite communication. This began with “writing for web” which focused on articles becoming friendly for search engines as much as they were for screen reading.

The fallacy of "users don't have time" was put forward as the reason to shorten content rather than understand why users weren't spending a long time, engaged with one's content. This short and sharp content became "snack-able" content which progressed into tweets, and now emojis.

These flashes of information have become the chants of our tribes; shared around, from follower to followers. Memes have truncated complex social and political issues into a strange sort of comedic outrage.

And while, there is much good to come from the emergence of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and so on the digitisation of discourse has also brought about a certain loss in the dynamics of our communication. Sometimes, in order to get a message across, it takes more than a minute to fully form. Sometimes, repeating and refining on the fly makes things clearer. Sometimes an analogy needs to be fully drawn out to give listeners a more relatable understanding, and sometimes it just needs a few more characters to really spell it out.

In short, communication is hard, and while truncating can force us to really pick our words with purpose it can also limit our expression to the point that we say nothing at all and don't say what we mean. For everyone who’s put their foot in their mouth with a poorly articulated tweet, there will be others, silenced by the anxiety of having to craft something so poignant as the character limit shrinks.

Many social platforms call their proposition, "conversation", even though it's generally a content pool of quips thrown into a raging river. This isn't conversation. There are followers and leaders and in our hope to quip quickly something that will resonante, it’s mostly the same people getting likes, shares and retweets. In many cases, followers will re-tweet blindly because of who is saying something, rather than what is being said.

This digital cred and charisma feeds echo-chambers that exists in an infinite public square, split from every relative position, between enablers, validators and trolls.


Podcasts & Youtubers

The emergence of bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers has been a parallel reaction to the fast nature of auto-feeds and headline streams. The noise has forced us to look deeper for the niche topics which interest us and technology has enabled us to both create and find it.

We accept now that there IS an appetite for long form content, and that there IS time to consume it. It just needs to be interesting to its audience and it WILL be consumed. We see this in long form writing, long form podcasts, and the binging of long form serialised shows.

Longer formats allow us to elaborate, explore, refine and most importantly change and grow. It allows audiences to really get to know the characters (real or fictional) and the relationships, one-way and platonic as they may be, add weight to the content we may not have had before with TV hosts, journalists or other public personalities.

So, while Joe Rogan may not know his listeners, they do get a real sense of who he is and what he believes. His genuine-self is out there in his podcast, unlike his Instagram, Twitter, UFC commentary or even stand-up routines.

Similarly, YouTubers, who do interact more with their audience via live-chat allow their viewers to really tap into their truth, purely because of the length of the time they spend. It's harder to hide if one if being genuine or authentic over a long period of time, especially in formats that are not over-produced or edited.


Me, Caffeine and Concrete

In 2014 I started an independent online (and printed) magazine, Caffeine & Concrete. Amoung other things, it offers me a way to practice active-listening, and through the interviews I’ve forced myself to literally, shut up and listen!

It’s central premise is that so much wisdom is lost in everyday conversation and the raw, transcribed approach allows it to be captured, unedited.

While I interview artists, designers, photographers, writers, teachers, sommeliers and more I can watch out for mannerisms, eye movements, facial expression, hand-gestures and probe with questions. This gives me a real sense of, not only what they are saying, but where it's coming from and how passionate they are about the subject.

During my Caffeine & Concrete project, I have found a new appreciation for people I knew—or thought I knew—by engaging in longer, slower conversations which allowing as much or as little to be said as one would like. While it takes the form of transciption, the lack of editing evokes a response from readers that is appreciative of the voice of the featured being carried through the text. I often will hear remarks from people who know the featured person like, "that's exactly how they talk!" Which I find validates my pursuit of authenticity.

With long form discussion, we add context to the soundbites we're inundated with. We can go beyond the click-bait and get into the content at a deeper level and luckily for us, there's no shortage of ways we can engage. Whether that be by listening to or starting a podcast, or on platforms such as Spowtr, which offer anyone the opportunity to get a long form piece of writing out there, about anything they want but also to respond, respectfully, rather than throwing out a dismissive reply.

Learn what makes Spowtr different from other blogging platforms here, and remember to read, listen, respond and listen again.

- Lorenzo Princi, creator of Caffeine & Concrete

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