The Lost Art (but Pray not the Death) of Conversation

It seems that, almost imperceptibly, we humans have inched into isolated islands only capable of communication and conversation through text messaging, SMS, email, and emoji.

When this is all over — and it will end — will we have forgotten how to converse? How to relate? How to be warm to each other? … I hope not. Will trans-pixel conversation be dealt the death it deserves once this is all done and dusted? … I hope so. In the meantime, we are hunkered at home, Zooming and FaceTime-ing those we love most.

But … in your next Zoom [or FaceTime] catch-up with your children, your grandchildren, or your once-a-long-leisurely-lunch-but-now-only-screen-seen best friends, there are some conversational topics best avoided.

Some of the pitfall questions/statements are:

My, but haven’t you put on some weight …’ 

— especially if you accompany it with a vocalised exclamation mark or make it as a statement. Chasing the statement with a vocal question mark — or at the very least an upward [but never downward] inflexion may at least allow ‘the Zoomee’ to defer, deny, or prevaricate ‘the Zoomer’!

Where was it that we saw each other last …?’ 

— trends to the risky, as it might just jiggle the tangled amyloid in our brains without evoking a ready answer. Better might be: ‘that was a lovely cupcake, chai, and chat we shared last spring …’ — despite that it might evoke a sense of sadness when reflecting on the time interval.

Do you remember when …?’

— is also risky, as this convo-starter can be something of a ‘hanging chad’, fraught as it may be with embarrassment if the amyloid aggregates at the other end prevent easy recall. Still, if it is followed by a chaser prompt like ‘… you wore that wonderful summer hat rimmed with over-ripe fruit, a tracking recall may be triggered.

How are the children/grandchildren …?’

— references to children and/or grandchildren are extremely chancy as they may evoke an unpredictable array of responses from stunned silence — while the recipient of the question desperately seeks names, ages, and relationships from within their memory bank — or flooding tears and sobbing as the enormity of their absence strikes like a tsunami

Have you been sitting by that cosy fire watching Netflix …?’ 

— to be sure, the scent of winter woodsmoke drifting down across a lonely Lorne beach is an evocative pleasure. Still, the question may prompt unexpected responses like ‘I’ve done my back …’, or ‘I have been booked in for double knee replacement …, or a range of other acute medical conditions brought on by carrying wood up or down the steeply angled slopes of Lorne.

‘How have you been …?’ 

— it may be wise not to ask such an open-ended question — unless you have the patience of the biblical Job and the empathy of the goddess Eleos.  But, if despite this sage advice, you still choose to ask it, have an armamentarium of soothing clucks, tut-tuts, oh dears, and there there’s, all ready and primed to go … and open a new bottle of the Yarra Valley’s finest from Rob at Cellabrations! While seemingly innocuous, this is the most critical question of all to avoid, as it will inevitably result in a torrent of symptoms, medical jargon, unpronounceable pharmaceuticals, and grimacing from the Zoomee.

‘While walking Rosie and Yogi today, I wondered: How is Spot …?’ 

— while a fair question, avoid asking it until you have done some background research through a third person to ensure that ‘Spot’ has not inadvertently ‘gone to god’ in the ever-extending isolation of lockdown.  Similar questions about distant elderly relatives can be touchy, too.

I had a lovely 4.9 km coastal drive to the Cumberland today …’ 

— is the sort of statement that may prove problematic, particularly if the Zoomee’s Beemer or ‘One-Ring-Short-of-an-Olympian’ SUV has been garaged for repairs after a bingle in the supermarket carpark brought on through lack of practice, declining vision, and/or waning road sense.

How is your golf handicap …?’ 

— is a question [given the recent multi-lockdowns] that is likely to end a friendship, especially if a lack of inter-lockdown fairway practice on the part of the Zoomee has resulted in a torn supraspinatus muscle [the ‘rotator cuff syndrome – a golfer’s nightmare].  A more delicate question might be have you managed to establish a putting green on the back lawn …?’ — after first carefully checking that the newly-acquired, down-sizing townhouse has a back lawn upon which to putt.

‘Have you had … um … you know … um …? 

— is a question best reserved for only those who may no longer remember what ‘um … you know … um …’ might signify. In that event, a blank and innocent stare may return via the pixels of your computer screen. If uncertain of the current ‘potential’ of the Zoomee — remembering that over time, faulty or ageing equipment may have dulled the ‘um … you know …’ — it may be wisest to keep such questions ‘in the closet’. Zoomee’s are likely to prove a trifle coy if asked to concede such personal information without due warning.

‘Are you managing to keep up your daily step count …?’ 

— another potentially indelicate topic … especially if the Zoomee has secretly joined an exercise group that is taking ‘virtual walks’ by video-link with a walk leader and has sneakily adopted the step count of the leader as their ‘virtual own’. To challenge a Zoomee’s claim of ‘a 30,000 step walk from Lorne to Eastern View and back’ may threaten any long-lasting friendship and is best avoided to save embarrassment and the loss of trans-pixel eye contact.

‘Are you still swimming every day …?’ 

— is one of those ‘you’ve-got-to-be-joking’ questions that a Zoomer could only ask of a Zoomee if in total ignorance of the shoulder-dislocation suffered by the Zoomee some months previously when attempting to extract an expanding body shape from a skin-tight wetsuit. As the wetsuit could not be replaced due to Covid travel restrictions and water entry ‘au-natural’ in near-zero temperatures has proved unappealing, Zoomee swimming may have become a pastime of the past.

‘Let’s Zoom again tomorrow …’ 

— why bother?

‘Let’s have coffee and re-quaint our old friendship when this is over’ 

— is the best [and the only] Zoom topic that treads safe and hopeful ground.

John Agar