Nicola Alpe: Are cellphones killing the art of conversation?


Remember when we were young and wanted to know something, we were told to look it up in the dictionary or going back even further, the encyclopedia?

I hated being told to do this. I found it annoying to be told to look it up myself when the person telling me clearly knew the answer and could instead provide it instantly. Looking back, maybe they didn’t know how to spell asphyxiate but I now realise this was the start of my thirst for instant knowledge.

Over Easter I was on the beach sans phone. In the space of less than an hour, there were multiple times I reached for it. Not to scroll through Instagram to see what was happening, but for instant answers to questions. Shall we go to the pub for dinner? I’ll check the menu. What time does The Sculptureum open tomorrow? I’ll take a look. Not this time. I paused and concluded that I am addicted to instant knowledge.

Remember social occasions when you’d actually have spirited discussions about the answer to something, or you’d bet on who was right? You’d leave the occasion none the wiser and sometime later the answer would be obtained. These days I can’t remember a social occasion where a phone isn’t whipped out and a question Googled so we can all know the answer, put the discussion to rest and move on with our lives.

I’d like to think I’m not alone in my thirst for knowledge. I’d like to think that we’re all hungry for facts and information, craving them in a hurry and that it’s a way to better ourselves and keep creating neural pathways. Even while writing that sentence I looked up, “brain making pathways scientific name”.

Years before the smartphone we huddled around TV screens, religiously watching the evening news to quench our thirst for facts. Sometimes I wonder what’s the point of watching the news? Everything on it is so reactionary and most of us have read about it in one of the many online publications we scroll through more than once a day. Sometimes I see headlines about pieces I read days ago in different publications. I suppose that’s the online equivalent of yesterday’s fish and chip wrapper.

I’m not going to apportion blame to any specific device or technology, but I will say that four years of Trump have wired many of us to crave the significantly shortened news cycle for our next instant hit. He gave us constant news, constant outrage or a good laugh. The international news is almost, dare I say it, boring now, and what with me cutting the cord on Haz and Meggerz I’m being forced to change but I still expect immediate answers to virtually everything.

My husband will attest that I love a good debate. I will argue a point until the end, but I also have little tolerance for arguing a point which can be answered immediately by checking it up online. Is this what future generations will do though? Will they continue to experience the enjoyment of a robust discussion about something that can eventually be found out, just for the sake of the robust discussion?

Will opinions be overtaken by immediate answers, thus decreasing any emotional attachment we may have to a topic? I hope not. And I’ll argue that point to the end.

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