New Tork Times

Every technology asks us to confront human values. This is a good thing, because it causes us to reaffirm what they are. If we are now ready to make face-to-face conversation a priority, it is easier to see what the next steps should be. We are not looking for simple solutions. We are looking for beginnings. Some of them may seem familiar by now, but they are no less challenging for that. Each addresses only a small piece of what silences us. Taken together, they can make a difference.

One start toward reclaiming conversation is to reclaim solitude. Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself. Slow down sufficiently to make this possible. And make a practice of doing one thing at a time. Think of unitasking as the next big thing. In every domain of life, it will increase performance and decrease stress.

But doing one thing at a time is hard, because it means asserting ourselves over what technology makes easy and what feels productive in the short term. Multitasking comes with its own high, but when we chase after this feeling, we pursue an illusion. Conversation is a human way to practice unitasking.

Our phones are not accessories, but psychologically potent devices that change not just what we do but who we are. A second path toward conversation involves recognizing the degree to which we are vulnerable to all that connection offers. We have to commit ourselves to designing our products and our lives to take that vulnerability into account. We can choose not to carry our phones all the time. We can park our phones in a room and go to them every hour or two while we work on other things or talk to other people. We can carve out spaces at home or work that are device-free, sacred spaces for the paired virtues of conversation and solitude. Families can find these spaces in the day to day — no devices at dinner, in the kitchen and in the car. Introduce this idea to children when they are young so it doesn’t spring up as punitive but as a baseline of family culture. In the workplace, too, the notion of sacred spaces makes sense: Conversation among employees increases productivity.

We can also redesign technology to leave more room for talking to each other. The “do not disturb” feature on the iPhone offers one model. You are not interrupted by vibrations, lights or rings, but you can set the phone to receive calls from designated people or to signal when someone calls you repeatedly. Engineers are ready with more ideas: What if our phones were not designed to keep us attached, but to do a task and then release us? What if the communications industry began to measure the success of devices not by how much time consumers spend on them but by whether it is time well spent?

It is always wise to approach our relationship with technology in the context that goes beyond it. We live, for example, in a political culture where conversations are blocked by our vulnerability to partisanship as well as by our new distractions. We thought that online posting would make us bolder than we are in person, but a 2014 Pew study demonstrated that people are less likely to post opinions on social media when they fear their followers will disagree with them. Designing for our vulnerabilities means finding ways to talk to people, online and off, whose opinions differ from our own.

Sometimes it simply means hearing people out. A college junior told me that she shied away from conversation because it demanded that one live by the rigors of what she calls the “seven minute rule.” It takes at least seven minutes to see how a conversation is going to unfold. You can’t go to your phone before those seven minutes are up. If the conversation goes quiet, you have to let it be. For conversation, like life, has silences — what some young people I interviewed called “the boring bits.” It is often in the moments when we stumble, hesitate and fall silent that we most reveal ourselves to one another.

The young woman who is so clear about the seven minutes that it takes to see where a conversation is going admits that she often doesn’t have the patience to wait for anything near that kind of time before going to her phone. In this she is characteristic of what the psychologists Howard Gardner and Katie Davis called the “app generation,” which grew up with phones in hand and apps at the ready. It tends toward impatience, expecting the world to respond like an app, quickly and efficiently. The app way of thinking starts with the idea that actions in the world will work like algorithms: Certain actions will lead to predictable results.

This attitude can show up in friendship as a lack of empathy. Friendships become things to manage; you have a lot of them, and you come to them with tools. So here is a first step: To reclaim conversation for yourself, your friendships and society, push back against viewing the world as one giant app. It works the other way, too: Conversation is the antidote to the algorithmic way of looking at life because it teaches you about fluidity, contingency and personality.

This is our moment to acknowledge the unintended consequences of the technologies to which we are vulnerable, but also to respect the resilience that has always been ours. We have time to make corrections and remember who we are — creatures of history, of deep psychology, of complex relationships, of conversations, artless, risky and face to face.