It has often been noted that even the most realistic literature, plays and films fail to capture authentic human conversation — not because they cannot, but because narrative movement and character revelation demand some enhancement of the frequently incoherent, awkward and oh so boring way we humans talk to each other. Ingenious written dialogue achieves the right “ring” of authenticity while incorporating the economy and condensed revelation of art.
Unfortunately, such art rarely exists in the normal conversation of the general public. Time was when we were shielded from this specious, unattractive, disjointed talk unless we happened to be in the next restaurant booth, waiting for a pay phone, or in the next office cubicle. And then we would instinctively draw ourselves away to a discreet distance, in an effort to protect the other person’s privacy and avoid our own embarrassment or boredom.
That, of course, is no longer possible. We live in Yammerland. In the car next to us at the light, at the next table, passing us on the sidewalk or in the supermarket aisle or the dentist’s waiting room, people are incessantly yammering into their phones or headsets.
Yammer, yammer, yammer!
I am no Luddite. I am awed by the cellphone and its amazing rapid evolution. Although my wife and I do not own a cell phone at present (I like the fact that I cannot always be “reached.”) it is possible we might own one some day. But, dreadfully aware of my own foibles in both habit and conversation, I still entertain a quaint respect for privacy. Not just my own privacy, but that of others.
And I guess I’m selfishly annoyed at how little others care about their privacy. I’m tired of learning more than I want to know from those around me. Here, in Florida, where I spend the winter, I have, in the last few days, been privy to the fact that “Ed” did not get the playoff tickets afterall. His boss decided to use them. I have been made aware that the guy with the salt n’ pepper hair wearing the tangerine guayabara shirt decided not to buy a massage chair at Linens N’ Things because the discount coupon he was carrying had expired.
I learned that the kid in the baggy pants and t-shirt outside Starbucks is doing “nothin’” but that whatever the person at the other end of his cellphone call was doing, it was “cool.” I heard a sort of mini-lecture on escrow accounts while riding on an elevator. I realized, while waiting at a walk-up ATM, that barely controlled anger is obvious even in a totally uncrecognizable, possibly African, tongue. I learned that… Oh, you’re not interested?
Neither am I.
William Saroyan once observed, “I have never received a telephone call that justified the excitement and fuss of the electronics involved. If I can’t see somebody I love, for instance, such as a daughter or son, I would rather received a letter.” Well, the fact is there are phone calls worth the “excitement” of this amazing and all too taken-for-granted technology. But they are much rarer than we would like to admit. Which is all very much beside the point now that the cellphone’s ubiquity has tapped our latent logorrhea.
Perhaps people will eventually regain, if not a sense of decorum, at least a vivid understanding of how lame and stultifying their “private” conversaions are. Nobody wants to hear them. Ah for those days when the talk of business or pleasure between two people was a private matter — the days before people could, without the faintest blush, take or make a phone call while sitting in a theater or a restaurant with somebody else.
Writer, critic and poet Dorothy Parker — hardly a shrinking violet – once rose from the legendary Algonquin Round Table saying, “Excuse me; I have to go to the bathroom.” In an instant her sense of honesty returned. “I really have to telephone,” she explained to the assembled company. “but I’m too embarrassed to say so.”
Bless you, Dorothy.
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