I was looking through the textbook of one of my children and the author was explaining the development of nouns. What I gleaned was so insightful I will share it with you. Apparently back in the day, our fore-parents used pictures to symbolize what they wished to tell others. Things were progressing relatively well until the picture stories became more elaborate and increasingly difficult and time-consuming to draw. Hence the development of the modern-day noun!
Since the beginning of time, one of the key components of socialisation has been conversation. It is impossible to relate to others in society without having some form of conversation. This article is not meant to debate the semantics of verbal as opposed to non-verbal conversation. Thus conversation hereafter discussed implies verbal conversation.
Now that we have set the stage allow me to share with you two scenarios which have prompted my discourse today. I happened to be at a function at a popular restaurant with a group of students who were recently freed from the clutches of strict academia, having just sat the ‘Common Entrance’ exam. The atmosphere was charged with the excitement of these pre-teens who were all simply happy to be over that particular hurdle.
They sat along a row of tables and initially there was plenty of chatter going on. Almost imperceptibly the chatter died down then there was a progression to near silence by the end of the meal. My inclination was that perhaps they were mentally tired and then having satisfied their voracious appetites they were now sated and ready to sleep. However, that was definitely not the cause for the silence. The devices…varying degrees of sophisticated mobile phones appeared out of the woodwork. In some cases, there were two devices per child. What could not be mistaken was the reflection of the screens on to the zombie-like faces of the children. They were pored over those devices to the point where they had stopped speaking to each other. It was as though each of them was in his or her own world.
If I thought that I was being excessive in my musings I found myself just four days later in another social situation. I sat in a barber’s salon and at the time I was the only female present. A barber’s shop is synonymous with loud conversations about the latest sporting icon or which team was better than the other. If not sports then definitely something about relationships with a smattering of politics thrown in for good measure. On this day, however, the silence was deafening. It was as though I was in a twilight zone. Not a word was spoken except maybe when a client was asked about his preference for a haircut. Each man held a device in his hand, be it tablet or mobile phone and he was consumed by whatever was on the screen.
We have lost the art of conversation, plain and simple. Individuals no longer sit and chat with each other. It has reached the stage where stories are told of persons under the same roof, sending messages to each other rather than having a face to face conversation. Is there an epidemic of laryngitis of which I was not informed? Perhaps that is the reason persons have decided to use their fingers to talk rather than the organs in their mouths.
I immensely enjoy writing and I have already confessed that in any given social situation I would prefer to listen rather than to talk. However, although my verbal input might be limited I would still be present in the conversation actively listening.
Already our children seem to be inept at representing themselves orally and this may be due in part to our Bajan societal influences where children were expected to be seen and not heard. Again I draw the contrast to those children from the United States of America who are able to fluently express themselves in an almost adult fashion on any given topic. Our children cast their eyes downwards and become semi-mute when asked the simplest of questions.
Is there coming a time when conversation like politeness, obedience, thoughtfulness and kindness become things of the past in our society? By no means am I a Luddite as I am grateful for the conveniences provided by the digital advances we enjoy. However, my heart grieves the progressive decline in social graces and interactions. A couple goes out to what is supposed to be a romantic anniversary dinner but each gets lost in his or her own device. This is not an unfamiliar sight and then we wonder why the divorce rates are so high or why our children ‘suddenly’ find themselves involved in the wrong groups.
Admittedly we have lost many of the things that made our society a nicer place to live. We do not have to let go of conversation. I have a few humble suggestions. With respect to our children and their mobile devices rules need to be set with respect to the do’s and don’t’s regarding their usage. Not only must those rules be set and agreed upon, but there should be clear consequences for infractions and parents and guardians need to follow through on those consequences.
Perhaps there should be set periods where we unplug from our devices. There is no employee who is indispensable to his or her place of work. Whilst each individual is valuable to the institution, upon the death of that said individual in most cases the company will not cease to exist and the work will be done by another equally capable individual. Make the effort to ‘check-out’ from work at an appropriate time, and have meaningful conversation with friends, family and even the colleague who sits next to you, who has ‘heard’ your voice only in emails.
Some of us will be pleasantly surprised when we sit and converse with our spouses, children and relatives and discover what they are thinking!
(Rénee Boyce is a medical doctor, a wife, a mother and a Christian, who is committed to Barbados’ development. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)