My friend and business partner Troy wrote a great piece yesterday about whether or not technology has improved or hindered our communication skills. It’s a timely topic with some awesome comments, and well worth the read.
It reminded me of something that happened a couple of years ago, that was a perfect example of the point Troy makes.
My wife had taken me to Niagara Falls for my 40th birthday, and it was truly amazing, awe-inspiring, majestic – all these words and more that I would have thought were being over-expressive had I not seen the Falls for myself. So yeah, the Falls were simply amazing.
While we were there, we had some time to kill on the last day before catching our train, and so we did a bit of walking. After 2-3 hours, we thought it’d be nice to relax and have a break. So we found a food court with a bunch of empty tables and sat down. This is where I found myself wondering how we really are as communicators and conversationalists.
While my wife was at the ladies room, this elderly lady came in and bought herself an ice cream. She looked as if she may be about 70-80 years old, and she was by herself. She had a wedding ring on her wedding finger, yet as I say she was alone. And that got me thinking.
Was she alone because her husband was simply at home having a restful day? Or was she alone because her husband had already passed away, and she was simply whiling away her time? If that was the case, did she have any family? Did she have any friends that she could spend time with? And if so, why weren’t any of them with her now?
This led to another train of thought – perhaps she had no-one to turn to. Perhaps she was at that age where all her friends had either passed away as time caught them up, or were infirm and in an old people’s home. This thought saddened me.
Friendly or “Friends”?
Every day, I talk to strangers that I’ve never met via the likes of Twitter, or Facebook, or via comment boxes on blogs. I discuss everything and anything with people on the other side of the world, and don’t think twice about starting a conversation with them, because I see them as “friends”.
Yet I couldn’t strike up a conversation with a lonely-looking old lady who may have really appreciated the company.
Have we really come so far as to only communicate via technology now? Has the art of real conversation died, or is it still there? Do we need the facade of technology to allow us to open up to people?
I couldn’t help but think of that lady on the way home, and of the missed opportunity to offer some company for even just a short while. I’m sure it would have been easy enough for my wife and I to ask if anyone was sitting beside her and strike up a conversation – but we didn’t. And I feel bad about that.
So here’s the thing. The next time I’m in a similar situation, I’m going to strike up that conversation. I’d rather be gently refused than to not speak at all. After all, it’s easy enough on Twitter – surely real life should be the same?