Conversational Culture Shock

I visited my parents in Florida a couple of weeks ago and experienced a bit of culture shock. Part of it was the palm trees, the faintly floral smell in the air, and the myriad manatee mailboxes I saw as we drove to eat big breakfasts and hang out at the beach.

Ah, vacation. Or, in my parents’ case, retirement. It’s a whole other world.

But beyond all of those superficial benefits to this languid lifestyle, there was something deeper that stood out …

Connection.

Every day of my visit, my parents had a line of lovely people dropping in and doing something that felt antiquated and yet revolutionary – talking! Face-to-face!

It reminded me of the salon conversations Gertrude Stein held with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso – except Nokomis, Florida style. Instead of being held at Paris’ Left Bank with avant-garde art covering the walls, they gathered in my parents’ cozy lanai lined with yard after yard of quilting fabric and spool after spool of colorful thread.

Cheryl, Don, Joanne, Joe, Sue, Richie, Mary, Claire, Al, Pam, Tom and more sat there sipping gin and tonics, Bud Light or cheap pinot grigio. And while the drink and discussion may not have been as heady as Stein and her salon cohorts enjoyed, the feeling was the same …

Life is richer when we make time to truly connect, to converse, with those around us.

And yet nowadays it seems like we are losing that ability or inclination. For us adults who aren’t retired, the art of conversation is getting a bit rusty. Perhaps it’s the hectic pace of our lives, the to and fro of most of our days, that get in the way of having genuine talks with our friends, neighbors and family. But for this next generation, this skill of conversing is looking perilously close to becoming extinct. In this month’s cover story, “The Art of Conversation,” we explore the digital advances that are hindering this old-school form of communication and offer some tips to help parents ensure their kids are able to converse in the real world without emojis and hashtags.

Imagine 50 to 60 years from now, after we’re gone and the next generation is living out their version of retirement. I’m sure big breakfasts and manatee mailboxes will still be all the rage, but I hope that face-to-face conversation makes the cut too. I hate to picture our kids huddled into a lanai or space pod, looking down at some device of the future that I can’t even imagine, instead of looking into the eyes of their dear friends.

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