We live in the era of unlimited texting, Snapchats, direct messages, and LinkedIn connections.
But Corey Carter believes we are everything but direct or connected.
Verbal Connections, founded by Carter, is a conversation party, held every two months, that welcomes adults of all ages, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds to generate discourse on current events, relationships, and situation-ships.
In 2011, Carter and his then-fiancée and now wife, Akilah Carter, held conversation parties in their living room. At first, Carter says, he invited other couples "to see how they deal with life situations and make their relationship work."
As the conversation started to broaden, so did the party's reach. The couple's intimate University City rowhouse was crammed with more than 50 people. The Carters have been holding the parties since then.
On a Sunday evening in October, Verbal Connections held its third public event. International House of Philadelphia's Ibrahim Theater was filled with more than 250 people. There was an open bar, food, and eight vendors selling jewelry, art, and other merchandise.
Attendees submitted questions anonymously and the hosts read them aloud.
The first question of the night asked whether or not incarcerated individuals should have the right to vote. A few answered, "No," but the question didn't come alive for everyone in the room until a young man recently released from prison voiced his opinion.
Moments like those are what Verbal Connections is built on.
"The negativity that we see in media," said Carter, "affects the way we communicate and affects our perceptions of relationships."
Carter, 34, said that in-person dialogue on such a large scale is a lost art. It can, he said, generate trust, respect, and understanding among perfect strangers.
"We're trained to shy away from the controversial issues, " said Donte Sullivan, 26, who ran the open bar at International House.
But that night, nothing was off-limits. Topics included disciplining children, domestic violence, relationships, self-identification, and the right time, exactly, to have sex with your partner.
Responses were candid and diverse. Some brought laughter, rounds of applause, or moments of contemplative silence. Carter says moments like these contribute to a "better sense of unity amongst us as people, stronger communities, and healthier relationships."
For some attendees, it was a chance for a dialogue they typically wouldn't be exposed to.
"This is a great way for members of a different group to join the conversation," said Maureen Connolly, 30. "When you're out in a Philly club or lounge, you can't hear what people are saying or thinking. This is a great way to hear other opinions and then form your own."
Sandy Williams, 61, was heavily involved in the civil-rights movement and says she didn't know what to expect but is "grateful to be able to hear this."
"You can't wait until 60 or 70 to decide it's time to have these conversations," said Williams.
Crystal Allen, 39, tested positive for HIV two years ago and shared her testimony with the audience.
"I loved the vibe and the energy," Allen said later. "For me it's about bringing awareness to a virus that still has a stigma attached to it."
Allen says some individuals were shocked to hear of her status, a few saying she didn't "look" any different from them.
"We're such a visual society," said Allen. "We'll treat you like one of us until we know otherwise."
Carter says the conversations have benefited him just as much as the participants. He says he's become a "better father and a better husband by hearing people's stories."
Carter plans to establish Verbal Connections among teenagers in Philadelphia schools and encourage adolescents to find their voices in an adult-dominated world.
Musical performers included loop-pedal artist Jacqueline Constance and singer Kriss Mincey. As the night wound down and the event ended, it was clear the conversation had only begun. Individuals formed groups expanding on topics discussed throughout the evening.
"We may not change the world," said Sullivan, "but we may spark the mind that does."
Verbal Connections Conversation Party: The Wine Mixer
6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, Penthouse, The Bourse Building, 21 S. 5th Street.
Tickets: $40 VIP via VerbalConnections.eventbrite.com
Information: 215-687-3228, firstname.lastname@example.org