The Forgotten Art of Simple Conversation

Man, oh man, what a crazy few days I’ve had, you guys. I’ve gotten exactly squat done writing-wise in the last week or so.

It all began Thursday night, when this happened:

treedown

This is the view the morning after One Bad Mother of a thunderstorm came rolling through with 89mph winds. It’s a huge chunk of a maple tree that was convinced by the strong wind that maybe it would enjoy life in the front yard rather than the backyard it had called home for decades. There had been a wooden fence there.

tree

frontview

Stuff like this happened all over the city; it wasn’t just me. Unfortunately, power poles also lost their fight against the fierce winds, snapping like twigs and cutting power to over 20,000 people at one point in the process. Our power went out around 7pm Thursday night.

We knew our line was okay, and even though it was very dark, it appeared that the damage was not all that bad in my neighborhood. Luckily, our devices were fully charged, so my wife and I spent the evening playing games and joking on Facebook about the storm. We had faith power would be back on soon, if not by the time we went to bed then sometime later in the night.

It didn’t come back on.

Being working stiffs with no other choice, we arose the next morning after a sweaty, muggy, crappy night’s sleep and went to work. News began to travel fast that people would be without power until late Friday night. Then it was Saturday around noon. Then it was by late Sunday. Then it was by Monday evening. I knew it would be different for different people, depending on their circumstances, but we began to face the possibility we might be without electricity all weekend.

By the time I came home Friday evening after a stressful day at work (in more ways than one), our house was an oven. We wisely decided that we would be slightly more comfortable in our basement, and took our flashlights and candles down to spend the night.

To compound the mounting stress, our garage door was acting wonky (technical term). It wouldn’t go all the way down, so I decided to have a look at it – Bad Idea #1. Then I thought I saw how to get the door down, I just needed to mess with it for a minute – Bad Idea #2. Ten minutes later, I had the garage door down, but was unable to get it up again. We had planned on going for a drive later to enjoy some air conditioning and charge up our phones, but no. We were trapped and powerless in our powerless home.

But then, a funny thing happened: we started talking.

Let me explain.

We talk to each other every night. Glancing up from our phones or tablets, between sending lame tweets (me) and between levels of Candy Crush (her). During commercials, between writing and blogging. Talking is always squeezed in between other things.

But on this night, with our phones dwindling away and no way to charge them, we put our mobile devices down and just…talked. We bitched about our day at work, talked about movies coming out, my favorite new TV show (Hannibal, if you’re interested), new music we wanted to check out. It was no deep philosophical stuff about the meaning of life; it was actually the same kinds of things we talk about every day. This time, though, there was a difference – we were both listening to each other. Really listening. We sat in our candle-lit basement and talked for hours. At eight o’clock we wondered how we’d kill the time; at midnight we wondered where the time had gone.

On Saturday, I called a professional to fix the garage door – Good Idea! We had been bracing for the worst, but were fortunate enough to get our power restored around 4:30pm Saturday. We did two things right away – turn on the a/c, and plug in our phones. I know, I know…but we had to charge them in case the power went out again. Luckily, it didn’t. We spent Sunday trying to relax and enjoy the conveniences we take for granted all too often. But I was reminded of something, and it seems silly that it took being literally trapped in my home to help me remember.

Sometimes it’s good to put your phone down and just sit and talk. And really listen.

106 thoughts on “The Forgotten Art of Simple Conversation

  1. I was just having this conversation with a friend the other day. In our world of technology, it does seem that people just don’t know how to TALK anymore. BTW, Hannibal is one of my new fav shows too. Sucks that we have to wait until next year for new episodes!

    1. It’s true, people don’t talk like they used to and just half listen while they text, tweet, etc. I’m so far behind on my episodes of Hannibal that by the time I watch the season finale it’ll almost be time for new episodes!

  2. Another benefit to being unable to broadcast your every impulsive instant train of thought (Twitter), or to pretend you have a hundred friends, none of whom you’ve actually met face-to-face (Face ? Book), is that you are forced to think a little BEFORE speaking.

    It improves the quality of your communication to contemplate what you say, and how you will say it.

  3. I am an old woman – 45 in September – and I think it is impolite to use your smartphone or mobile when meeting up with somebody for a chat. You would not, if you happened to meet with a friend at a bar, and you know, another friend is there at a different table, go and talk to the second silmutaneously, while the first tells you something or asks you something, would you? Why are people doing it on smartphones? Answer is simple, because they can. But I don’t think it is right, not to give somebody your whole attention when talking eye to eye. But then – I am old, a dinosaur. My kind will die out soon.

    1. It never ceases to amaze me how many people barely look at each other anymore. I’m painfully shy, and have had to work all my life on making eye contact, and now when I do look someone in the eye they’re looking at their phone.

  4. I agree. Conversation is a lost art. I was visiting a friend the other day whom I hadn’t seen in months & she spent the 1st hour I was there playing a game on her phone. I finally said quit or i’m leaving because it’s just rude! I didn’t go there to be ignored. It slso amazes me how you don’t see anyone’s face anymore when walking down the street. Everyone’s got their face glued to their phones. Whatever happened to strolling down the street & smiling at others & saying hello?

  5. Hannible as in the cannible? I wasnt aware they made such a show =O

    Its nice to get away from technology for a little while regardless of the bad circumstance you guys had. Glad everyone is safe and your power is back on 🙂

  6. Okay, first of all, you’ve got a wonderful, sexy woman laying next to you in a sound-dampened, private basement from 8 PM-on and you can’t think of anything to do to pass the time? For shame!

    Second, here’s an idea: start an electronic bedtime. Turn off every entertainment/distraction device in the house after a certain hour every night to give yourself time to come down, reconnect, or just meditate on what’s between your ears for an hour or two before bed. You’ll sleep better, you’ll work stuff out, and you’ll have conversations again. Or you could just get nekkid.

    1. I like your ideas. Sometimes disconnecting from the matrix is the only way to recharge your own batteries.

      As to your first point…I had a feeling this comment was coming eventually. My wife wasn’t really interested due to the heat, despite my playing Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” on repeat for an hour. 🙂

  7. I had several teenagers try to convince me that they are programmed to be able to text and have a conversation and pay attention to both equally well. They really believed themselves. Which is really, really sad. Conversation is becoming a lost art and you pointed that out very clearly with your story. Glad you two had a chance to reconnect and really talk. Makes me want to watch my own habits and put the devices away more often.

    1. What scares me is that the storm wasn’t even one of famous tornadoes were known for in this part of the country. I shudder to think how much worse it could have been.

  8. It’s amazing what a power outage can do for a marriage. I remember we went through the same thing during some crazy wind storm about five years ago. We played Monopoly by candle light, and talked to each other all night.
    As I was reading I was thinking about other places I need to just put the device away and talk to people. The grocery store, the bank, the coffee shop, and any where else I have to wait in line.

  9. Thank you for bringing this issue up. I oftentimes think about the kids growing up and how they are ill prepared in life due to being glued to their phones or tv or video games. My sweetie and I are always talking to each other. We have made it a habit when we take road trips to not turn on the radio unless of us is sleepy and needs the background noise to stay awake. We know so much about each other now and even finish each others’ sentences.

    1. We’re the same way on road trips, we just talk all the way until drowsiness starts to creep in. Another good opportunity to engage in old fashioned conversation.

  10. wow to the simple pleasures! I hope i can give up my phone or my computer or my tv for sometime….congrats to you for being freshly pressed and on being able to rejoice such a lovely time.

  11. I read your story about the storm and reflected on my own experience during three hurricanes in a row. The worst was the first one which knocked out the electricity for ten days. It was humid and the middle of the summer with usual days of 90 decrees plus. We had to clean the debris from the storm and that took hours and hours of hot sweaty work. No air conditioning, no television and you constantly sweated. Hell, those were the good olde days. I know this sounds strange but neighbors who never communicated to one another became familiar with those around them. It was like a block party built on necessity. A few months after we went back to the way things were, where everyone muted up.

    1. We also talked to some neighbors we’d never spoken to before during the outage. We’ve already gone back to our own little worlds, but it’s still nice to be able to smile and wave at someone and actually know who they are.

  12. Its amazing how a widespread lack of electricity allows people to regress to the good old days of just talking without all the hashtags and comments and likes. We used to just give eachother high-fives or a simple smile to acknowledge comments. If losing power wasn’t so disastrous and devastating for all of us, i’d welcome it a bit more.

  13. One of the many losses of “talking” only through technology is missing all the non-verbal cues that socialize us — whether a raised eyebrow or eye-roll or yawn or smile of recognition.

  14. It is good to sometime put your phone down and just sit and talk. And really listen BUT it shouldn’t be due to a disaster striking it should be part of our busy schedules, right? People need to take time out to listen and just sit and talk!

  15. Wow! This is such a vivid reminder of how our society has become a bit too immersed in technology. I think we are all guilty of this. We need to make time to communicate with folks!

  16. I agree totally!
    It’s even bad that we text or email instead of calling. I’m a big phone user, I like to talk when I’m driving… Good ‘ol multitasking. But, I really enjoy hearing my friends voices, their laugh, their EMOTION! Now we’ve got =-), =-(, =-O. Gesh.
    Go pick-up a phone & call your best friend now!!
    =-)!!!!!

  17. I’m pretty miserable at basically talking to people. Unless I’m wound up with coffee or something like that I don’t even like being around them. I wonder if growing up with the internet has had something to do with it.

  18. For every 20 Freshly Pressed blogs I look at, I find a good one.

    And blogs like yours make me glad I keep reading the really bad ones that pass for ‘good’ at wordpress.

    Someday, they might be nice and press some of mine.

    Thank you,

    Ghost.

  19. My wife and I would, before our son made it a bad idea, have 18th Century Nights– essentially a voluntary, one-house power outage. Once dinner was cooked, nothing that wasn’t powered by humans or candles went on for the rest of the night, and I have to admit I miss those times. An active child unused to open flame led us to drop the idea, and we both occasionally admit to missing the events and wishing himself were old enough to trust with a restarting of the habit. While having it happen without one’s consent is definitely sub-optimal, I applaud your embracing of the opportunity.

    Of course, I’m of an age with a previous commenter, and not bound to The Devices so strongly; my phone is an idiot and my plan doesn’t include texting.

  20. 6 months ago I met and fell deeply in love with the most simple man. He didn’t even own a cell phone. Now I’m all for simple but that was a little much for me. He did get a phone however we also had some of the best conversations of a lifetime. He made my phone oblivious in a world made of only technology .. And every one knowing every detail of your life. I am so thankful we built such a strong foundation to continue our relationship on. I’m so happy to read this and happy you both got to experience such a pleasure in life shared between two people. It’s the little things people truly take for granted

  21. I use to live in Burma where there would be days without electricity. Cyclone Nargis came and I was there. So many things destroyed, so many lives lost. It took a long time before everything was normal again. When you’re in such a situation you realize you take things for granted – water, food, technology and sometimes even your loved ones! We all need to take a break and have a meaningful conversation with the ones we love!

  22. I think things like Facebook, Twitter and the excessive consumption of digital entertainment have bred a generation of men and women who are genuinely afraid of face-to-face conversation. It’s easy to get people to come out to a party or a loud bar because the music and the constant distractions provide some form of comfort and social cover. But suggest instead a quiet cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon and suddenly everybody just wants to sit at home (presumably in front of the tv/computer). We live in a world where the casual catch up between old friends has become the most dreaded and tense social interaction.

    It reminds me of what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby:
    “I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

    1. I loved that phrase used in the movie! I said it coming out a couple of times in my head so I would remember it! It is so true though…you can be in a room full of people and be completely alone :-/

  23. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. And you are so right — sometimes we just need to disconnect from the world’s electronics, sit down in a quiet place and chat. I’ve had some meaningful conversations that way.

  24. I really enjoyed this post. Your title is what got me, but throughout the post your sense of humor made me want to read more. I am looking forward to reading other posts you have written.

  25. I agree with you about conversation – it’s definitely a dying art..I get so annoyed when I’m out with friends for a ‘catch up’ and they spend time on their phones instead. Apparently it’s more important they let the 300 people on their FB profile know what they are up to instead of spending ‘real’ time with friends.

  26. I am so sorry you had such destruction from the storm…..but kudos for finding the time to sit down and share with us! I love what you wrote about “talking” to one another!
    I took a class last Spring that required a short paper regarding communication and this is exactly what I talked about! I suppose our generation (over 30) learned how to actually use skills of face to face communication and speaking properly on the telephone. It is unfortunate that particular skill is so lacking because it can still make the difference in an interview for a job. It may be on a subconscious level but the one who may end up with the position is the NOT the one with the best resume but the one who shook the hand of the interviewer and looked them in the eye 🙂

  27. Yes, and another reason for the disconnect in humanity? People are actually choking on too much information; the mind cannot digest it properly- we are not meant to be hyenas feasting at warp speed on the carcass

    We should be more like the cow: eat slowly, consider, chew the cud as it were, digesting the info at a pace that is compatible with nature.

    There is much food in the tillage of the poor, to borrow the phrase. There are alot of high strung souls running around on circuit overload- they are easy to spot; can’t hold a conversation without reaching for the next interruption via phone or pad.

    S l o w down is the word for the day.

    Glad no one was hurt with the downed tree.

  28. I loved this post. When the power went out in Southern California a few years ago, the whole street went quiet at sunset and all you could hear was the murmur of voices. I realized what made them sound different is that they were floating through the air toward my ear, not piping in over a wireless connection. They were softer, warmer. I couldn’t read in the dwindling light so I sat and watched the sky change and I listened to how the voices sounded in the shadows and my husband and I held hands. I was sorry when, at 3 a.m., all the lights blazed on again.

  29. Great post, and so true. I frequently have to ask friends if they could please put their phone away when we go out…in fact, it’s the way I open the evening, explaining that I want to have a real conversation with them that is distraction-free. My boyfriend has asked large groups of friends to put their phones in a pile off to the side so that they resist the temptation to look at them (and the phone pile apparently works wonders, by the way!). It’s such a shame, and I find myself glued to my phone more often than I would like 😦

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