In Our Lady of West 74th Street there’s a short scene where Emily, the main character, is texting with her teenage daughter through a window at Starbucks…
The bus stopped at West 63rd Street and the two got off. Starbucks was located just a half-block from the bus stop. As Emily and Martin approached the corner, they could see the two girls through the window. They were chatting and laughing.
Emily went up and tapped on the glass. Rather than being met with expressions of excited welcome, the girls’ faces turned serious. Heather lifted her cup, pointed to it, and mouthed some words to Emily who shook her head and pointed at her watchless wrist. Heather typed something into her phone and a moment later, Emily heard her phone beep from inside her purse. She took it out and looked. The screen showed the words ‘almost finished.’ Emily then did the same and typed ‘hurry up!’
I’ve always liked this passage. It was an attempt to poke fun at the way our communication has grown so impersonal. How we have forgotten how to talk to each other … across generations, across philosophical barriers, and just in general. We text each other through glass.
It seems the practice of genteel conversation has all but disappeared. This was surely exhibited in the recent U.S. election. Political choices aside, there was very little decorum shown by either side. And it wasn’t just the candidates. From major news personalities down to individuals posting on social media, there seemed to be only one way communication. How can it be otherwise when everyone is talking at once?
WELCOME TO FACEBOOK: Let’s all talk at once.
We’ve forgotten the other part of conversation—listening. It’s the nature of social media. Everything is outbound. And in the midst of the resulting cacophony, we’ve lost the art of listening and considering what’s been said. There’s no time to think things through anymore. We must respond now or our comments will be lost in the fray.
Hat’s off to the monk…
I recently finished reading The Sign of Jonas by the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. The book is a memoir about his first years of living a monastic life. One of the things I was struck by was his intense desire for silence—for contemplation. To listen.
Though Merton wrote many books in his short life, he was a reluctant writer. He often had to be pressed by his abbot to write—to gain support for the monastery. Merton simply wanted silence. I think as a result of his reluctance, and his silence, he was a better writer.
I realize we’re not all monks. And that we must function in this age of digital clamor. However, let us remember take time to put down our phones and step out from behind the glass. To handle a printed page. To speak to each other with our breath and to listen with our ears of flesh.