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Question 1: Energy exists in different forms such as light, heat, and chemical, mechanic and electrical
I first noticed it in a restaurant. The place was oddly quiet, and at one table a group sat with their heads
bowed, their eyes hooded and their hands in their laps. I then realised that every one, whatever their age group,
was gazing at a handheld phone or tablet. People strolled in the street outside likewise, with arms at right
angles, necks bent and heads in awkward postures. Mothers with babies were doing it. Students in groups
were doing it. The scene resembled something from an old science fiction film. 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 considerate behaviour, this is largely because even talk is considered
too intimate a contact. No such bar applies to emailing, texting, messaging, posting and tweeting. It is
The MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that her students are close to mastering the art of
maintaining 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
The audience in many theatres 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. Psychologists have identified this as ‘fear of conversation’, and have come up with the
In consequence, there is now a booming demand for online ‘conversation’ with robots and artificial voices.
Mobiles come loaded with customised ‘boyfriends’ or ‘girlfriends’. People sign up with computerised dating
advisors, even claim to fall in love with their on-board GPS guides. A robot seal can be picked up in online
In his Conversation: A History of a Declining Art, Stephen Miller notes that public discourse is now
dominated by ill-tempered disagreement, by ‘intersecting monologues’. Anger and lack of restraint 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
All that said, the death of conversation has been announced as often as that of the book. As far back as the
century, the literary figure Samuel Johnson worried that the decline of political conversation would lead
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