I should probably know better, but I keep trying to do this stupid thing called “Human Interaction”. Ridiculous, I know. My most recent failed attempt happened in Costco today while my wife and I were braving the crowds of other weary shoppers who were trying to gather enough sustenance to quiet the squalling child strapped down in their carts.
I was pushing a buggy through an especially congested piece of real estate, trying to make my way towards the mangos, when a woman, who was face down in her smart phone, drove her cart into me. I turned to her, and smiled, doing my best to remember that I was not the only one in the store who was tired of crowds and wanted to go home.
“Sorry, my bad,” I said, even though it wasn’t.
She didn’t look up from her phone.
“I should have my head examined for coming in here on a long weekend.”
Her fingers rapidly tapped on the small screen held before her eyes, which did not so much as glance in my direction.
“I think you might be on fire.”
Not a word.
Apparently small talk is dead and I am an idiot for even having the vague notion that people should talk to each other.
I am actually beginning to find the lack of people willing to interact with their fellow humans disheartening. I cannot count how many times, during my work life, where I’ve gotten to the scene of some kind of tragedy and someone is lying on the ground, bleeding. Almost without fail I’ll look around and see a couple of dozen people, their phones held up before their faces so they can record the misery of the poor bastard who has been recently hit by a car/robbed/stabbed. None of them would think to help, or even use the phone in their hand to call 911, but they sure as hell won’t miss a single second of the guy screaming.
Is it just me, or do people suck?
I now find myself surprised, or perhaps delighted, when people take a couple of minutes to talk to me. I don’t mean “do you want fries with that” kind of conversation, but actual, full on communicating; the kind of interaction where you get a sense of the person you’re talking to, even if you’re only getting a look at a single facet of the complex individual standing opposite you. In the society we now live in, making small talk is no small thing.
This is one of the reasons I think stories are so important. Beyond the fact that reading a story is like having a very long conversation with the author, stories are all about conflict and interaction. Good stories are filled with dialogue, people communicating, characters learning about one another through speech and gestures. The reader is forced to focus on what the storyteller is trying to say in order to understand the story and get into the lives of the characters. For me, it is one of the most intimate and detailed forms of interaction.
And I don’t think there is enough of it to go around.
As I sit here writing this, I wonder about the woman that ran into me in Costco. I wonder when was the last time she had someone really listen to her. I wonder when was the last time she had a conversation she couldn’t tap out on the screen of her phone. I wonder about the last time someone told her a story.
I think it has been a little too long.
If today is a writing day for you, like it is for me, think about the people who have forgotten what it means to communicate, and really need that story you’re hammering away on. Perhaps it will one day appear on the phone screen of one of these kids and they’ll learn something that I-Phone can’t teach them.
As always, thanks for reading.