Exercises in Conversation
My local Target store has self-service kiosks. They look helpful, but if you have used one you already know that they don’t work at least 50% of the time. You inevitably end up standing at a lane with a blinking “help me” light, and it takes FOR-EV-ER for someone to come and help you (sure, the lines at Target can sometimes be long, but the wait at a malfunctioning kiosk is usually longer). Eventually a cashier comes to the rescue. I like making small talk as they fix the kiosk. We complain together over how annoying the machine is. It’s a bonding moment… and likely the real reason why I keep trying to use the stupid things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the number of self-serve/automated services I try to use every day in the elusive pursuit of efficient errand-running. They are neat and sometimes convenient, but I’ve become increasingly aware that every time I use one, I’m missing out on something intangible and important.
It’s easy to think of other examples where we are lured to trade human interaction for “ease and efficiency”: instant cash machines, automatic postal carrier machines, on-line grocery shopping, anything from amazon.com. But each time I choose not to talk to a person IN person, I’m left feeling a little empty. I bet if I really wanted to, I could complete a long list of errands without ever saying hello to a single person, and that’s not a good thing. At the end of a full day, I wouldn’t have any people stories from my travels, and I definitely wouldn’t feel happy or light. I’m already feeling more lonely, just imagining it.
And what about simple communication? That’s all technology-ized, too. It used to be in person or by phone, and now it’s primarily via a screen. We type. We text. We communicate in CAPS for volume. We have emojis that convey emotion. We’ve taken the satisfying connection part out of our interactions with each other. It’s crazy. We think that emailing and texting and typing on our ever present keyboards makes us more connected than ever. It doesn’t. Nope. All that this “connectivity” really does is drop us further down the rabbit hole of isolation; your computer or phone can’t hug you or provide comfort. Sure, the person on the distant keyboard may type perfect, soothing words of beauty, but that person isn’t really with you. Heck, they may not even be the person you think they are!
Why do we do this? Why do we choose to not talk to each other?
Forgive me. I don’t mean to sound so bleak. I’m simply frustrated by watching all of us looking at our screens instead of each other.
Here’s my suggestion… It’s time to look up.
Put down your phone. Step away from whatever social media site you can’t quit. Take the conversation outside of your head and talk to someone. A real someone. Even better – talk to someone you don’t know! Strike up a completely small-talky conversation. See what you get. Start with something simple.
You: Ready for snow?
After trying a couple of short conversations, mix it up a little; throw a compliment out into the air just for the heck of it. Positivity begets positivity, and spontaneous compliments give a positive spin that makes both the converser and conversee feel good. I do this a lot – especially to children. Why? Toddlers don’t generally travel alone, and complimenting a little person usually makes their grownup companion part of the conversation, too. It’s a two-fer.
Little person: Hello.
You: I like your shoes.
Little person: [looks down at shoes and smiles. Big person smiles at little person… and then they both look up at you with a smile] My shoes are pink!
Ok! You’re on a roll! Now, go bigger; try putting a conversation into the errand-running part of your day. It’s actually harder than you might think because it takes time, and time is precious. It’s worth it, though. Trust me. Go to the grocery store for something you need, leave your phone in your pocket/purse (unless you have apple pay or something), and converse with the cashier as you check out.
Cashier: Did you find everything you were looking for today?
You: Yes, I did. I really like this granola. Do lots of people buy it?
Cashier: [after looking at you, temporarily stunned by the realization that you were actually listening to the question, starts to smile] Yes! We can’t keep it in stock. Have you tried putting some in chocolate chip cookies?
Baby steps. Baby steps, dear ones. Baby steps.
Choose not to isolate yourself, starting right now. Close the computer and start a real conversation with someone. Maybe even talk about this posting?