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Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: The Art of Conversation: Dying a Death by Smart Phone?


Once upon‌ a time, or what seems‍ like another lifeline than the one we currently inhabit, there existed an age where you could sit down ‌at a diner, have your cup of Joe, engage in enlightening discussions with the bloke next to you wearing a three-piece suit or a ⁤farmer ‍on⁣ his midday break. Those ⁢were the ‌splendid times⁣ when​ conversation was not just idle chatter; ‌it was a significant part of our social‌ life. Familiarity didn’t‍ breed contempt; ⁢instead, ​it ​created ⁣a sense ⁤of community and belonging. You don’t just stumble upon ‍that anymore.

Having been anchored in the‍ mighty city of Schenectady,⁣ NY all my life, I have seen this ⁤paradigm ⁤shift happen right before my⁤ weary eyes. Now, the⁣ cafes are no‌ longer buzzing with discussions about ⁢the little charms of life or the grand ideologies⁣ of the world. Instead, it’s overpowered by the incessant tapping of fingers on screens and the occasional chuckle​ that comes‍ from sharing a meme or, worse, a TikTok video.

But let me‌ back up before I get ahead of⁣ myself here. As a professional writer who loved dissecting the society ⁤he lived in,⁢ gleaning wisdom‍ from ordinary and ‍extraordinary happenstances, let’s say I’m hardly a stranger to⁣ the art of putting thoughts into words. I have spent ⁢more years behind a typewriter‍ than I care⁤ to count, witnessing and chronicling the seasons of ​life ⁢rolling ⁤by.

It​ was in one of those days of yore, possibly in ​the early 90s, I remember being at Perreca’s,⁢ enlivened by the rich aroma of freshly baked bread. Taking my customary seat by the⁣ window, ⁤I was scribbling some ⁤thoughts for a ​local newspaper on my notebook. Old Sal, a portly figure known to everyone in the neighborhood, walked in and‌ nodded‍ at me, saying, “Hey, you, wordsmith. What’s the story today?” ‌His jovial nature, always bringing a smile to ‌my face, was an antidote for⁢ the biting winters, and conversations with him‌ were like⁤ a warm fireplace. But ⁢today, ⁤Old Sal is gone, and so is his spirit ‌that breathed ​life into our community – slowly replaced by the cold,​ impersonal glow of smartphones, emanating from the‌ hands of⁢ patrons, ⁤lost in their​ own insular ⁤worlds.

When did⁢ we morph from ⁤being social creatures to screen-devout zombies? The advent of the smartphone, as I reckon, has singularly wreaked ​havoc on real⁢ interactions. Look at ​teenagers‍ today; their eyes are constantly glued to that little rectangle, thumbs doing ‌the furthest ⁤thing from twiddling. Don’t get me ​wrong; ​I’m neither a technophobe nor an old fool trying to relive his glory ⁢days by belittling present times (although⁣ my daughter might disagree, seeing that she still can’t convince me to upgrade my good old Nokia ⁤for that ⁤sleek iPhone she flaunts).

But ponder upon it candidly –‌ when was the last time you struck up ‌a conversation with ⁤a stranger⁣ or called⁢ an old friend just to catch up, ​and⁣ not for ‌ticking off your to-do​ list?‌ We seem to have replaced real connections ‍with social media followers, ​intimate discussions with viral tweets, and meaningful dialogues with WhatsApp forwards. The digital age might have ⁣made communication ‘easier’, but are we truly ‘communicating’?

An annual ⁢report ⁤on⁢ American​ conversation behaviors ⁢by wireless ⁣provider Qualcomm found that 54% of respondents admitted ‌to feeling phone anxiety:⁤ namely, having​ fears ⁣around ‍the thought of conducting a phone conversation. I ⁢wonder if⁤ Alexander Graham Bell could ​have envisioned this when inventing‍ the telephone.

Before I’m accused of waxing ‍lyrical about the golden days, let me set the record straight. I understand and appreciate the ‍conveniences that⁢ this digital era ⁢provides. A couple of Christmases​ ago, my niece‍ couldn’t make⁤ it back to ⁢Schenectady all the way⁤ from her Berkeley dormitory. A pang of sadness hit, but then, there we were, ⁢singing‍ carols around the Christmas ‍tree with her on a live video⁤ call. It‌ didn’t replace⁤ having⁤ her warm presence, but it was good.

Technological advancement is akin⁢ to a freight train, unstoppable in its trajectory. Yet, amid life’s fast-paced acceleration, the one crucial aspect standing at the cusp of ⁣extinction is genuine conversation. Those effortless interactions that foster empathy, ⁣understanding, and form the backbone of ‍our ⁣society are increasingly becoming a figment of the past.

While I might not live enough to⁤ see a revolution, I hold on⁢ to the hope that we’ll learn to anchor our ⁤ships before we’re entirely swept away‌ by the tsunami of⁤ digital dominance. The truth⁤ remains that conversation is at the heart of human connection. It’s the ‍pulse that ‍sustains our societal fabric; and like the forgotten art of letter writing, let’s not inscribe a tombstone⁢ for it just yet. I⁤ remain, as ⁤I always have, an obstinate optimist. So here’s urging you to put ‍down that‍ smart menace occasionally‌ and ​strike up a real conversation. Who‌ knows, it might just engender a lifelong friendship – maybe even with a grumpy ol’⁤ writer from Schenectady.

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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