October 22, 2014

Babycakes Romero's chronicle of "The Death of Conversation" has been going around the internet this week.  It's a series of photos depicting friends, couples, and co-workers on their phones supposedly "ignoring" the real world people sitting right next to them.  Ironically, I've seen this link posted on Facebook and Twitter; I can't help but to imagine some of these people must have acted out similar scenarios, ultimately "ignoring" their friends, to post a link about how people are ignoring their friends.  Although I agree with the underlying point of the article, and I too find it annoying to have dinner with an habitual smartphone user, in a way Babycakes Romero seems almost predatory in his approach which kinda weirds me out.  I can picture him walking around the city, hunting down the perfect subject in that one perfect moment where both people look down at their phone to illustrate the "death of conversation"

First off, every one of these photos comes with no context, whatsoever.  Think of all the things you use your phone for.  Personally, I use mine for weather, directions, train schedules, my calendar, to-do lists, Yelp reviews and more.  That's not to say that I don't also use my phone for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook but it's not exclusively for that.  Who's to say that at least half of these photos are not people trying to schedule a future date together or maybe they're looking for a restaurant in the area with good reviews.  It seems awfully judgmental to stand as an observer, with no context to the couples behavior, and say that this is the "death of conversation".  Perhaps the couple spent all day together, maybe they even live together and now they're having a moment to themselves, together.  Two people checking their Facebook or Twitter feeds in one moment out of a full day of endless conversation hardly seems to be the "death of conversation" to me.

Maybe this isn't the "death" of conversation but the birth of a different way of conversing, and fighting it or expecting it to go away is futile.  Some abuse it, hopefully most do not, but to stand as an observer and lament every time two people are together and on their phones seems a bit much.  It begins sounding like an old person telling their grand-kids about the days before the telephone or how they'd walk nine miles in the snow to get to school, "back in my day..." is what they love to say.  I never want to say that, I never want to be that curmudgeon.  Things are going to change and the way the younger generation interacts with each other is going to change too.

Many conversations, and even some relationships, now live solely online.  It may be scary to some and depressing to others but its commonplace now.  You can either accept that people are going to immerse themselves into these technologies more and more or you can just be dragged along, kicking and screaming, every time a teenager tweets in the company of friends.  Life as we know it will never be the same again, again and again until the end.

My generation is the first to have the internet in our homes and then in our pockets.  Now we can go on our smartphones and argue on a Facebook comment thread about how people are using social media and smartphones too much.  That's pretty ironic, don't you think?  Sure, we use this technology less than the younger generation but we also lived in a time when that technology didn't exist.  We can still remember social interaction before smartphones.  I still remember calling a friend's house and asking his mom if I can speak to him.  You can't expect the kids growing up now to interact like we did pre-internet/pre-smartphone.  Maybe they use their phones "too much" but it's just "too much" for you, because you are older and holding on to old traditions.

The irony is that we're ridiculing the younger generation for excessively using a technology that we helped grow through our own use and one that they've never lived a day without, and we're doing it on the internet, no less.  It's not the death of conversation, its the death of our youth.  Now we're old enough to look at the younger generation and judge them based on how we grew up.  We see a change and we don't like it but they really don't care.  "Yea, yea!  We get it, grandpa!  'Back in my day...'"

by Rob Blair

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