The Art of Conversation, RIP


In northern Ireland we can have four seasons in one day; perhaps this is why people over here talk about the weather so much. But in reality, the only difference between summer and winter is that in winter, the rain is a few degrees colder.

But the idle chit chat of the weather is quickly disappearing from our lives. More and more I am met with awkward silences. Not the comfortable silences between people that know each other, but the long painful pauses between strangers on a bus, train or at work. These pauses become so protracted that the silence is quite literally deafening and neither person will speak for fear that the shattering silence might splinter into a million pieces and cause injury to all around – a bit like farting in an elevator.

More and more people retract into their own private worlds. Portable DVD players, laptops, MP3 players all serve to form an invisible barrier between you and the person sitting next to you on the bus. The clicking of mobile phones are only muffled by the rhythmic beats of your neighbours earphones as he or she tries to drown out the silence and wrap themselves in a protective blanket of noise. It’s as good as putting up a “do not disturb” or “get lost” sign.

It is strange that the only voices heard are people talking not to their neighbour, but to an invisible person at the other end of a mobile phone. People have forgotten how to talk to each other.

At work, during tea breaks, the only noise heard is the clicking of keyboards. It’s not that these people are working, it’s just easier to surf the Internet than to talk to your colleague.

Today I started up a conversation with a man on my bus. We have travelled the same way for months, live in the same town and work in the same business park. The fear I had that he might think I was some kind of “weirdo” soon passed and a casual acquaintance was made – not a friend (friends are few and far between and can take a lifetime to make) but another human being who is aware of my existence and is not afraid to put away his mp3 player for a morning and engage in the long dead but not forgotten art of conversation.

Perhaps tomorrow you should try it.