I was brought up to pay my full attention to anyone who’s talking to me. I was taught to make eye contact, use appropriate body language and genuinely try to listen to what’s being said. Unlike many other questionable rules of etiquette that I now ignore – please, someone, tell me why putting your knife and fork together when you’ve finished eating makes you a better person – the rules governing social interaction have stuck with me. I agree with them, I see the value in them and there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ve made me a more socially adept adult.
Except that maybe my parents shouldn’t have bothered. Maybe they should’ve just left me to smear faeces all over my dick and play the helicopter game. The truth is that to be a reasonably young adult with an actual grasp on the art of conversation is to be in a lonely position nowadays. If I hadn’t been brought up to listen to whoever was speaking, I wouldn’t have the same problem when other people prioritise TV over conversation. If I’d been brought up in a world where it was acceptable to pull out your phone and check Facebook in the middle of a conversation, I wouldn’t be so infuriated when it happens in front of me. But, courtesy of my parents, I have this acute awareness of exactly what other people are doing wrong and it bugs the hell out of me.
It wasn’t always this way. I’m reliably informed by the generation before mine that conversation skills have been in freefall for a long time now. It isn’t blind nostalgia; I think there’s something to it. Before the always-on digital age, there were far fewer distractions that were perceived to be worth ignoring someone for. Many people of my generation have now grown accustomed to a constant, artificially high level of stimulation facilitated by near-instant access to a practically infinite stream of interesting and entertaining media (i.e. the internet). It’s true to some extent that the distilled contributions of billions are usually going to be more interesting than the unfiltered contributions of a few but the choice is not that simple.
If the internet is unequivocally better than real life, why doesn’t everyone just stay at home and fill their fucking boots? Media found on the internet is stimulating but it can never fulfil the basic human need for real interaction with other humans. It’s time people woke up and realised that they need the conversation they treat as a chore. The least you could do is be a good conversation partner to those contributing to your sunny (or not so sunny, as the case may be) disposition. The internet isn’t making you happy in any substantial way; your friends are.