Conversations today lack the richness of the past for many reasons. One is that people share so little time together. When they do it is often in parallel, two people watching tv for instance. Conversations commonly occurred when people were alone with each other or engaged in a common task that allowed conversation to contribute to the task. For example, quilting. When people quilt together it's equally feasible to converse. Similiarly working in the fields invited conversation but today so much work such as computer and assembly line endeavours exclude conversation.
Further, today few have common points of reference such as even the weather. Farmers conversations began and ended on the weather allowing an easy opening and shared points of reference. The Bible was another such common source of reference and communication. The diversity of collected information and sources of such access to that information is so great that commonly people might not even know Michael Jackson has died, who he was, what was the principle concern about his death before another "story" has become the 'news'. The speed of events as portrayed by the media makes their very discussion often so shallow.
Despite the fact that we are at war for years now there is little discussion of the war yet once when a country was at war it became as important as the weather as a source of conversation. In contrast there is more likely the inaniety of conversation that revolves around the batting average of a player and the dress size of a star. This fatuousness is for many the extent of conversation as the consumer industries would have us believe that the Coke - Pepsi "debate" is truly of serious import to the world as a whole. What was once just a matter of personal preference is for marketting purposes elevated to the highest realm of consideration.
So conversation has been high jacked by the 'talking head' media and 'experts' and 'propanganists' . Then when conversation might occur and ideas might begin to flow there's 'political correctness' guaranteed to stymie any true creativity of expression. Political correctness is one of many forms of censorship that guarantee that the modern and post modern man and women are unable to speak freely despite the claim to 'freedom of speech'. Totalitarian domination of communication and especially conversation is at an all time high, beyond in many ways what was extant in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, as collectively everyone is required to agree or be unpatriotic.
Whole discussions that once were truly diverse are reduced to binary code and sound bite with one being either pro or against it indicates that paranoia is reigning high. Conversations then become fashion statements rather than the investigations and sharing and compromise and tolerance that once underlay this fundamental exchange of ideas. Today it serves more often as a means of marketting and demonstrating political agreement and isolating and ostracizing the politically incorrect.
Judgement stops conversation. Conversations can only occur when there is safety and today political correctness and various others forms of censorship ensure that there are always those who might 'take offence'. Litigation of any kind can be so punitive that most fear conversation as it might well open them to beaurocratic, legal or political condemnation if they are not aware of whether it's 'in' or 'out' to be concerned about the way Farah Fawcett died as opposed to the way Michael Jackson died.
Clearly no one would dare to discuss the number in jail or the tax free status of churches and synagogues or the racism of the immigrants or the continued mass killing of innoscent people while obesity is a principal problem in the school system.
Increasingly 'nice' conversation, is the only acceptable form of conversation because disagreement is 'disruptive' and 'contrary' ideas are 'oppositional' and totalitarianism and one party views become the norm because if you don't believe as I do it is not a topic of conversation or even debate but rather a time for marketting and conversion.
The level of terror in a community is indeed marked by the kind of conversations or their dearth. The mass hysteria and frank insaniety that prevail today is profoundly evident when people meet directly in any non structured situation. To even talk one on one so many people need alcohol or drugs or a script to overcome the social anxiety that is preeminent in any totalitarian state. Isolation and social phobia are common place. Yet it was not always so. The technology today reflects the 'conversations' that once occurred between individuals without the interface of computer screen or cell phone text message.
Conversations between people in the community meeting one on one may be limitted while ironically discussions of great richness occur throughout the internet. Totalitarianism and the inherrent social fears reign extant between physical neighbours yet one will share almost anything with a distant "pen pal". Perhaps the 'structure' and "forms" being established in the internet are restoring 'frames of reference' and 'process' that died with "multi culturalism' and "globalization' but is again being raised as a 'new' form of relating in 'conversation'.
One day the cyber monks will leave 'cyber space" and take the learning of 'discussion boards' to the coffee shops and street corners and again 'conversation' will aurally replace the 'noise' of modern cities. That's just a thought. I"m not sure I'd have a conversation about it.