Conversation est morte: vivre la conversation

c: | f: /

The must-have epidemic of pocket technology is having a detrimental effect on the art of face-to-face, even when face-to-face.

I was in Pizza Hut the other week, for my sins. On the table across the aisle were a group of teenage girls who I assumed had come out to socialise, have a laugh and a meal. Not so, it appears.

Of the ten in the group, a few of them chatted to each other and there was a bit of banter going on, cackles of laughter here and there, the sort of thing one would expect a bunch of teenagers to be doing. But the rest of the group — at least seven of them — only half-heartedly joined in.

Instead they sat with their fancy phones out, scrolling through messages, texting / sexting to unseen others, taking the odd picture across the table and sending it off to someone else, tweeting about their pizza topping, or just otherwise interacting with their handheld devices instead of their immediate surroundings.

I was surprised. Clearly I’m not cool any more.

The gawping token oldster

I have the crappiest phone ever invented that doesn’t even have a camera in it; y’know, it just makes and receives calls and, aside from text messages, that’s it. Maybe that’s why I ignore it in a restaurant (OK, Pizza Hut barely qualifies): deep down I’m embarrassed that my phone isn’t swanky enough. Or maybe it’s more than that. Maybe common decency dictates that I leave it alone.

Yes I’ve used it in restaurants — discreetly, as people shouting at the damn things is my biggest bugbear — but I’ve realised the error of my ways and now I’ll only consider it if I excuse myself first and the call is stupendously, life and death important.

Which is pretty much never: hardly anything can’t wait until later.

Bill.. Bill? krrrkshhcck, you’re breaking up

I get that some people think their lives or jobs are so important that they can’t possibly wait an hour for the meal to be over or for the train to arrive at the station. I get that it’s mission critical to call Bob and tell him that you’re about to send him an email, because he’s not capable of figuring out how to open his inbox. I get that you need to phone home and tell someone that your ETA is fifteen minutes because, God help you, they might actually worry if you didn’t confirm your itinerary. I truly get it: you’re the centre of the universe and everyone needs you. It makes you feel big. It gives your life purpose.

Only one problem: I don’t care.

Mobile phone operators must love the fact that society seems compelled to talk about the most trivial or irrelevant details. Constantly. Everything’s now now now look at me aren’t I great because I was first to do it, but is devoid of actual content.

Some of this wave of banality is likely what my circle of friends term techno-tart behaviour: “my latest and greatest gizmo is functionally superior to yours and I need to let everyone know by whipping it out in public for no real reason”. Some is undoubtedly media-led. Some I’m sure is just false bravado at not being seen to be left behind.

Me? I prefer people. I prefer facial expressions. Gesticulation. Smiles. Y’know, real things. It’s why I refuse to use Express Checkout lanes at supermarkets. The now defunct cashiers must be on commission to frustrate as many people as possible at hearing “unexpected item in bagging area”. The software is so crappily designed that an army of staff loiter nearby to train people how to use it, or to help out when things don’t go according to the software engineer’s flowchart.

The staff can’t understand why I’m not in a hurry to get out of the shop. They can’t see the logic in talking to another human being. They assume it’s because I’m scared of the machines, which is pretty funny given my day job revolves around programming. They don’t grasp that I can’t argue with a machine when it insists that my three-for-two isn’t in the database, whereas I can reason and joke with a real person.

But I digress. Back in the restaurant the crux of the matter is values. Or lack, thereof. If I’m out with my family or friends then I’ve come out to be with them. To converse, to catch up, to just kick back and enjoy their company. If I sit with my phone out or start communicating with someone on the other end of the line, the message is clear: you guys suck, I’d rather be somewhere else.

And that’s just plain rude. Isn’t it? You might as well have stayed at home.

1 of you scribbled here

    jakob

    “Techno tart behaviour” – love it: must remember that!

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