Our local paper (remember those?) ran a story recently about a young man named Taylor Baldry who sets up a proper table near a popular walking path, and invites passersby to stop for a Free Conversation. WTF!?! LOL!!! TMI!!?!!
It’s part of a project (part self-help, part performance art) he calls “The Conversationalist.” And believe it or don’t, he gets many takers—and they report walking away inspired, refreshed, and touched. This begs the question:
Have we (especially we “haves”) gotten so busy and gadget-dependent that a free-range conversation with a stranger piques a nostalgic interest like a cute kid’s lemonade stand?”
Check out this pic of two Italian men outside the coffee shop. Now THAT’S communication and connection—complete with waving arms, proximity, and touch. Americans (especially we cold Northerners) may keep our distance. But traditionally, we do love to talk. Yet it seems that even that passion may be going the way of the rotary phone…
To acknowledge an upside, many parents preach to me that they love texting—because their kids do—so communication with their kids happens where it otherwise might fall silent. And in these all-at-onceness times, we need all the tools we can get our hands on just to keep up.
Yet this textbook reader often finds that text reading raises more riddles than it solves. And when one-to-five word communiques replace most other forms, one must ask:
Is what we have here a failure to communicate?”
Example: Last month, I asked an old acquaintance for a (somewhat involved) favor—via email—which I thought was a patient courtesy versus, say, a phone call. Days later, I received an embarassed “yes” reply, with the admission that he rarely does email now. So could we take this conversation on-text?
Of course! Could be my only reply. But when it comes to texting, I’m all thumbs. So playing out this arrangement became a new form of time-suck for me, though I happily complied to accommodate his generosity.
Meanwhile, you can’t turn to a legitimate news source these days without stumbling on another story about how we are rewiring our existence, literally and metaphysically. Students can’t recall simple things when distracted by their digitalia. Drivers are dying due to DWTexting fools. And inattentive pedestrians texting or talking on cells are a new target for thugs and thieves.
So forgive those of us that still crave nuance, words, expressions, and I-to-I contact. I’ll take the life of those Italian friends—who probably have dozens of fun and fervent confrontations a day.
And if I can’t be there, or no one else has the time or attention to talk, really talk, maybe I’ll go for a walk around Lake Calhoun and see if the brave, new conversationalist has a place for me at his table.