Whatever happened to conversation? | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Someone posted a cartoon on Facebook yesterday. Maybe it was meant to be funny. But I didn’t laugh. In fact I shared it so more people would see it. It was thought-provoking.


Here’s the story.


A man stands at the Pearly Gates and the long-bearded Gatekeeper is looking at the man’s name in a book and reading his story. He tells the newcomer, “Actually you had a pretty great life. But you were looking down at your phone and you missed it!”


Did this make you laugh?


How much of life are we missing? When was the last time you were “in the moment” or had a live, face-to-face conversation with someone who matters in your life? How long has it been since you dropped in on a brother or sister, a friend, or a parent, just to spend some time with them, for coffee or a chat?


If you are a parent with grown-up children no longer at home, are you satisfied with a text? Better than nothing, you say?


Kids (any age), when was the last time you took time to visit your parents, grandparents, knocked on their door, gave them a hug and told them you love them? OK, you text them. But when was your last person-to-person hugging and kissing experience? Can’t remember? Has it been that long?


What are you missing? Are you aware of the world around you, that there’s a need out there and it calls your name?




Or are all our senses riveted on our phones? Is online media the only place worthy of our precious time or presence? Our gadgets demand our undivided attention and have isolated us from what matters most.


I grew up in the era of the telephone. Ours was mounted on the wall. Beside it was a small table with a pad and pencil and a straight chair. We had party lines. The rules were clear. Take turns, no monopolizing, and strictly no eavesdropping.


We were taught that the phone was not for long conversations. And when we took liberties with the time, there were dire consequences. My aunt used to feel the receiver, like she was checking for fever on someone’s forehead, and immediately knew if someone had been burning the wires.


That “someone” was banned from the phone for a couple of days, even weeks. She reminded us about wasting our time on idle chatter, that the phone was a useful apparatus, not a bosom friend.


How times have changed.


When telephone service expanded there was a mad rush to get single lines. Soon people wanted an extension in every room, and then asked for separate lines for grownups and the kids. No sharing. I wonder if that’s when the gap began.


Then came the era of the pager. Hand-held radios came on the scene. People wanted a faster way to get in touch. Beepers went off every minute. The pace has not slackened since.


Here we are today, and everything is just a click away.


At gatherings anywhere the scene is familiar. The kids (young and old) come armed to the teeth with phones, iPads, wires and chargers, and scramble for the nearest power source. God forbid we are left incommunicado.


We sit around the table, together, yes, but we seldom even make eye contact. Whatever happened to conversation?


No warmth


They say that texting makes up for it. Hardly! It has no warmth and lacks the nuances of a tone of voice. Some claim that it gives you the guts to say what’s on your mind. It is nonconfrontational and therefore safe. And cowardly?


Let’s face it. A text message carries no particular intonation. The recipient interprets the mood, imagines the inflection and decides if the sender is rude, upset or arrogant, and responds accordingly.


A normal discussion becomes a heated argument. Typically one takes offense and falls off the radar. The excuse is, “That’s not how I meant it.” But the damage is done.


Today’s electronic gadgets are really awesome. Never mind that they have also taken rudeness to a new level.


We visit outer space and can see through a satellite what our planet looks like. We can watch life happen, live and in color, even slo-mo. And they say it will get even better. That’s almost scary.


I have discovered that if I speak into my microphone my words appear on the screen. I have a new friend who knows it all. Her name is Siri. Have you met her?


And then we have FaceTime. It’s almost like being there.


But there are actions that only the heart can command. You can’t wipe someone’s tears on a screen or hold a hand or kiss a booboo to make the pain go away.


The new toys are great. But look what has happened to our relationships. Today it has become normal to text one another even when you are in the same house. Is it so hard to walk across the hall?


Unacceptable! But for some, it is all they can hope to get.


American film director and Pixar voice actor Andrew Stanton says it very well: “We all fall into our habits, our routines, our ruts. They’re used quite often, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid living, to avoid doing the messy part of having relationships with other people, of dealing with a person next to us. That’s why we can all be in a room on our cell phones and not have to deal with one another.”


How terribly sad!