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(Published: 2012-07-08)

As a Trendmaster, especially one named Robyn, it’s somewhat embarrassing to admit that I do not tweet. I’m aware of Twitter, the online social networking and micro blogging service, but I don’t have an account.

A lot of people do though. The Twitter website is one of the top 10 most visited on the Internet; as of 2012, there are 500 million active users generating over 340 million tweets a day. Tweets, of course, are text-based posts of up to 140 characters. Recently, I read that Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) said the definition of the word twitter—“a short burst of inconsequential information”—perfectly described what the service was about.

Thankfully, for every trend there’s a countertrend. In this case, engaging in meaningful conversation (something sociologists say is fast becoming a lost art) would qualify. It’s a paradox of our times that despite being more connected than ever, we’re also more deeply divided on major issues. Talking heads, pontificating in sound bites, stir up controversy as a means to promote themselves, with no thought given as to how to really solve the problems. As a society, we seem to lack the necessary skills to find a way forward. Perhaps all that inconsequential information is somewhat to blame?

If you’re interested in surpassing the superficial, deep-sixing dogma, and getting past sound bites, you may want to check out the Oxford Muse Society. Founded by Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford University dean emeritus, the society is based on the idea that despite the progress that humanity has made mapping oceans and mountains, visiting the moon, and creating the Internet, we still don’t know one another very well.

The 10-year-old organization’s goal is to bring together people in order to help facilitate deeper understanding by inspiring meaningful dialogue. Towards that end they pioneered “Conversation Dinners,” where food is the intermediary and great conversation the result.

Businesses like Ikea and McDonalds, police departments and governments, colleges and religious organizations, have all organized Muse dinners. The World Economic Forum held one in Davos recently; it proved so successful that one eminent participant said he’d never again give a dinner party without a Muse Menu, as he hated superficial chat.

How do these dinners work? Dinners are held in many venues—local chefs prepare seasonal and local food. Participants are seated in pairs with someone they have never met. Each is given a Menu of Conversation that looks like a restaurant menu, with starters, main course, dessert, etc….but instead of descriptions of food dishes, each heading contains topics to talk about.

The Conversation Menu comprises a range of refreshing and stimulating questions, based on Zeldin’s best-selling book “An Intimate History of Humanity.” Topics change with each course, and range from “how have your priorities changed over the years?” as a starter, to “what have you rebelled against in the past?” as a main course, to “what have you learned about love?” for desert. Participants take turns choosing a topic. The meal usually lasts two hours, but some have been known to last as long as seven hours!

At its heart, the Oxford Muse Society is about being completely open--not only with another person, but chiefly with oneself. The hope is that guests will find that conversational sincerity can be very refreshing, and that at the end of the dinner participants will carry a renewed sense of openness into their daily life.

If I were to tweet about this, here’s what I’d say:

##So long superficial chit chat. Stop tweeting--start eating. Find a Muse & feed your soul @ a Conversation Dinner.

I THINK that qualifies as under 140 characters.


Oxford Muse Society

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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