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Friday, 8 December 2017

The art of small talk

I had the opportunity recently to spend time around a group of young women and children. However, it was difficult to make eye contact with the adults. Forget conversation. Do people even know how to make small talk any more? The people I did have conversations with were two other grandmothers, there to help their families, as was I.


Each young parent, when not interacting with a child, had their attention focused on a cell phone. Why speak to anyone else when you are messaging others or searching the web? Anyone who needed assistance and asked the collective for it, was ignored. A specific ask to an individual was given a positive response, however reluctantly.


There was a time in such a situation, you had conversations about the kids, the occasion, the weather, any number of topics which passed the time and spoke to the shared experience of the day. You might never see the people again, but you had the sense you shared this common human connection in time and place with them. Are those days gone? Is isolation in a group the new norm?  


Children learn the social norms from their parents and the other adults around them. What are we teaching them now, ignore the person next to you and say whatever you want to the world? The impersonal connections of today via social media, where anyone can say anything, can lead to bullying in the extreme. Not having to look someone in the eye makes it easier to insult or harass others. The rash of adolescent suicides due to on-line bullying is alarming.


Are we seeing the end of the shared human experience but rather parallel experiences, shared via hand-held devices? Will we be alone in a group, connected to untold information but uninterested in human presence around us? Where will it lead? I fear we will lose the humanizing art of small talk.

44 comments:

  1. An acquaintance on Flickr does Connected/Disconnected photos, Connected via the phone but disconnected from the local environment.

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    1. Disconnected indeed. One can be alone in a room full of people though in a different sense than it used to be.

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  2. I agree. It's really disconcerting to see the young people on the bus who don't look up from their devices for the entire ride. I admit to using my tablet at the coffee shop, but I much prefer to talk to people on the bus. There's nobody to talk to. You're right that the children are learning from their parents, and it's not a good lesson. :-(

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    1. I see it getting worse before it improves, Jan, if it ever does!

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  3. Teenagers prefer texting as a means of communication.They even consider the email as a thing of the past. However, as they grow older they will see the need to use "voice".

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    1. The art of conversation will be a thing of the past too, Catarina.

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  4. It's true Marie.. it's a real shame because lively conversations are so enjoyable ☺

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    1. A soon to be lost art, if this trend continues, PDP.

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  5. Also language is being lost with so many shorten forms for face book or twitter.
    Today, living with social network is indispensable.I hope people will learn how to communicate with other people, also using our new technology.
    I agree with your Catarina. There is a hope.

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    1. I think there should be times in every family when the phones etc are not to be used, eg mealtime, Tomoko.

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  6. Yes that is exactly the world we live on today! It is sad and alarming.

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    1. We can’t just let it be, Angela. Every family can establish rules for use which apply to the parents too.

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  7. i was shaking my head as i read. i recently took a picture of a family, they did not know i took it because they all had their heads down. i am sure they were on vacation, as was i, in a gorgeous venue. it is disturbing!!!

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    1. I notice in a theatre during intermission, Debbie. Couple sat next to eat other, ignoring the person with them, texting someone else.

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  8. You're quite right. This is a very, very "stark" generation gap. Often in a public place, I am literally the only person there not glued to a smartphone. I look around, but no one else is looking at anything but their tiny little screens.

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    1. I use the phone for emergencies only, Debra. That is the exception today!

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  9. I believe it will swing back and forth. The disconnection will peak and people will realize and there will be movement the other direction. Just like politics, there is eventually a counter balance.

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    1. I hope so, Linda. Families can have their own rules for usage too.

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  10. Sigh. It happens here too. Too often. And sadly I think the insistence on being connected leads to disconnection. Disconnection from family, from friends, from reality and often safety (who hasn't seen someone glued to their phone at the wheel of a car).

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    1. I know people injured by distracted drivers. It is a serious danger today on our roads, EC.

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  11. It's sad to see but they will pay a price sooner or later. It's wonderful to be connected with people from all over the world but it is also nice to talk to the people who live in your community. The people who are glued to their phones will learn are missing out, life is just passing them by and they don't even know it or care. Pathetic is what I think.

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  12. I keep hoping they will catch on. As folks walk their kids or dogs, they keep their noses in their cells. The kids here their voices as do the dogs, but they learn the remarks aren't directed at them. This is really awful.

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    1. So much for being present in the moment, Mage.

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  13. Last week I went to the Medical Centre to make an appointment to see a doctor. I was told that they no longer took requests at the reception desk, and I would have to phone in my request using my Smartphone (haven't got one), or online on my computer, preferably using their "app"! I went outside out of view of the desk and using my little 'old fashioned flip-phone' I asked for an appointment. While she was checking on the computer to see which doctors were available I walked back into reception as she gave me a few options on my phone. I stood directly in front of her and she saw me, but still carried on the conversation on the phone. How stupid is that? The upshot was I couldn't get an appointment for at least two weeks!

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    1. That is not only stupid, it is sad, Keith. Also, do all people there have cell phones and computers because it is not the case here. What does one do then? Go to emergency for routine medical care?

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    2. Britain is a different world nowadays, everybody has to have a cellphone in order to survive modern day life here. I have even seen small children in pushchairs using them, some as young as 3yrs! EVERY schoolchild and teenager has one to keep in touch with mum. It's a known fact that there are more cell-phones in this country than there are people. I struggle to keep up with modern technology, but I fear that I shall have to buy one soon because when form filling online they always ask for your mobile phone, never your land-line number, which is not acceptable when ordering food and other items online.

      Going to the Accident & Emergency Unit would mean a wait of up to 8 hours to see a doctor or nurse. True, I'm not kidding.

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    3. To tie up Emergency for routine medical visits is not right either.

      We have lots of seniors here who aren’t on-line because they chose not to be or cannot afford to be. What becomes of them? We are working here to be Age Friendly to everyone. The practice in that medical office is not for sure. It is very short sighted and excludes people and common sense.

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  14. There are times when the young ones can use their phones for entertainment or social connections, but not at parties certainly and not when adults are talking to them!!

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    1. Rules for usage are essential I think, even for adults.

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  15. You are so right about this. As a child, I was taught to look people in the eye and join in the conversation, show respect and be helpful. When we eat out, I notice that both parents and children have heads down concentrating on who knows what! Sad.

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    1. It is indeed, Mildred. Why bother to go anywhere as a family if its members have eyes glued in their phones?

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  16. I fear you may be right, and I worry about where it's taking us. Your phrase "isolation in a group" captures it well. And I'm part of it, sitting here reading blogs on my ipad!

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    1. Knowing when to put the Ipad away is crucial, FG.

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  17. We are definitely loosing the art of small talk. I have to remind myself to put my phone away and am good about it usually. I can't see it getting better but I do what I can with my son and hope he listens.

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    1. I hope society realizes what’s going on and makes changes somehow, Jenn.

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  18. I do wonder what this generation will be like when they reach retirement. They won't know how to be sociable with strangers. Sarah x

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    1. It is as if we are closing ourselves off to others while we open ourselves to the world, Sarah.

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  19. I worry about the effects on children when their parents are busy scrolling or texting instead of interacting with their kids. I watched a toddler trying to interact with her mother at the eye doctor one day; the mother was just ignoring her or giving one-word answers. The little girl seemed to be resigned to it but bless her heart, she'd wait a bit and try again. It kind of broke my heart.

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  20. Don't even get me started! One of the reasons Astrid and I REFUSE to get a smart phone is because of what you have just written. However, we're also the older generation and realize we are "out of touch" in THAT regard. The thing is, the youngsters are growing up in THIS world and will never have a clue about what you're saying! (sigh)

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