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The Art of Conversation
If we don't use it, we'll lose it!

I've seen it and, probably, so have you - people sitting close, around a table, on park benches or just the grass, waiting at train stations and bus stops; not talking, merely tap-tapping away on their phones or tablets. Some may be playing games; others presumably, are communicating with another person. Fair enough if that person isn't within shouting distance, but often this isn't the case. The one they are conversing with might be sitting right next to them. That, to me, is pointless. These days you can't even criticise it as a waste of money, because the argument in favour of continuing the practice would be to declare that contact between phones on a reciprocal plan costs nothing; and anyway, there's Bluetooth. That would seem to be an end to it - they are quite happy to carry on the way that suits them, so why should I bother? Despite the opposition, I strongly believe the art of conversation is important, and we seem to be losing this once-popular gift of the gab.

Technology can't be blamed entirely. Many years ago before everyone had a cell phone, I recall a report that conversation between members of the average family lasted no more than 30 minutes a day. Certainly, they spoke to one another - "What's for tea? Pass the salt, please. Have you done your homework yet?" - but rarely did it extend to events and interests beyond the household routine. I'm glad to say we didn't fit into this category, spending a good portion of the time we were together talking to the children and to each other. Topics were wide and varied, adapted to cater for differing levels of understanding and education. I believe it helped all of us to grow as a united family, rather than just a group of distant individuals living under the same roof. For us, holding a conversation was a normal part of our day and hardly remarkable, except for one time in particular.

Through circumstances, we were living in a caravan: two adults, four children, a cat, a budgie and a cockatoo. Our "residence" was an old four-berth trailer - no room for us, so we had to sleep in the annex. In the evening, we would fold down the dining table to set up the double bed, and all of us would crowd onto this, cat included, to watch whatever was on our 12 inch black and white TV. I was looking forward to one program in particular - the Kirk Douglas version of "Spartacus." Wishing to appreciate the movie without interruption, I laid down the law: "No talking!" It was fine until someone whispered a question which one of their siblings tried to answer, facts disputed by another; all wrong as I, in my wisdom, felt bound to point out. Thus ensued a brief discussion which I called a halt to because I was missing my movie. It started up again a few minutes later, prompted by a different part of the story, then another. Before long, we were all into a huge factual and philosophical debate that continued until the movie finished and the kids had to go to bed. I guess I ought to have been disappointed, but I was quite the reverse. Spartacus the movie would be around for years to come; that precious interaction with my family was something only the memory of the moment could repeat. There would be other times, most of which proved stimulating and enjoyable; none, however, epitomised the importance of conversation the way that one did.

I suppose some might question why we need conversation at all. Isn't a text message enough to keep moving forward in a way that doesn't interfere with a busy lifestyle? There are more things to do than just talk. As for the kids' basic education and development of social skills, the schools handle that, don't they? Then we happen to glance at an assignment they are writing. We aren't spying, would just like to know the level they are at and maybe help rectify the odd spelling mistake. Flawed English we expect, certainly not unintelligible strings of abbreviations and codes. No wonder normal conversation is on the wane if it has to take a back seat to I phone language.

See next page for Part 2

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