Are we losing the art of conversation?

I am one of those weird people who speak to people in elevators and start conversations in the doctor’s office. I have never met a stranger. Just recently I met a lady in Tuesday Morning in Kerrville. I mistook her for someone from Sabinal but found out she was from Yancey and was shopping in Kerrville with her daughter. That’s all it took for me as I know several people from Yancey. We stood there and talked for 30 minutes. She finished by saying, “You certainly made my day!”

That being said, lately, I’ve been observing people in restaurants. My husband and I were in a Uvalde restaurant a couple of weeks ago. There were many families in there, but for the most part, the parents weren’t talking with their children. One young boy had headphones on and a computer in front of him while the parents talked. The child’s eyes were fixated on the screen as he intermittently popped a french fry into his mouth. What a shame and what a poor comment on today’s world. The computer and headphones should have been left at home.

Mealtimes should be a time to enjoy both food and good conversation. With children involved in so many extracurricular activities, parents get to spend little quality time with their offspring. Mealtime, whether at home or in a restaurant, is a great time to engage children and get to know more about them. Yes, we don’t always know what’s going on in the lives of our children. What was your day like at school? Are you studying anything interesting? How do you like the new school year? Have you met any new friends?

Have you noticed that even couples on a date don’t really converse? As soon as they are seated, out come their cell phones. Hardly a word is spoken between them before or during the meal. Are they texting back and forth?

While we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the Hampton, a young mother sat near us with her toddler, who was totally engrossed in the iPhone in front of him which was playing some sort of movie. Occasionally, the mother would hand him a piece of waffle, but he never looked up.

We are living in a world where parents really don’t know their children because they rarely talk with them. As long as they are quiet and don’t cause any trouble, all is well. Have we returned to the days when children should be seen and not heard?

Adults are just as guilty. Look around you the next time you are eating in a restaurant. A cell phone has taken its place to the right of the plate where the knife is generally located. People can’t seem to live without them. One can’t even enjoy a meal without a text, e-mail, or phone call lighting up the screen. Many a meaningful conversation is interrupted by something that could wait. My husband is in real estate, but when we go out to eat, the cell phone stays in the car. It is “our time.”

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. We will have around 30 people of all ages for Thanksgiving dinner. I spend weeks of preparation for the affair, so when the big day comes, I ask two things of my guests: Put your cell phones away until after you’ve eaten and don’t eat weeks of preparation in 15 minutes! I want people to enjoy the meal and partake in good conversation as many who attend only see each other once a year on Thanksgiving.

Technology is both a good and bad thing, but it has dehumanized us in many ways. We don’t have to know how to spell, write, do math, or converse. We don’t even have to move from the couch if we don’t want to; we can change the channel, order food, or see who’s knocking at our door. Just punch a few buttons and the world is at our command. Texting, in particular, has gotten in the way of actually talking to someone, and emojis have replaced expressing our feelings.

For me, there is nothing more comforting than the sound of the human voice. I love to go to lunch with an old friend and sit and talk for hours. When my mother was alive, she called every night at 6:30. Now I look forward to the daily phone call from our daughter in Austin; what a treasure! She has never once texted me; I am glad that I am more important to her than that.

Allene Mandry was born in Uvalde where she attended elementary school before moving to San Antonio. Now a retired teacher, she spends her time doing genealogy research and giving presentations on genealogy. Mandry and her husband, Arthur, live on a ranch near Camp Verde.

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