The Art of Conversation

What do you talk about? Work, the weather, love, sex, tv, music? Do you enjoy juicy gossip about celebrities or friends? How much do you even remember of what people say to you – or you say to them?

It’s alleged that women use 20,000 words a day, men 7,000. How many in a lifetime? Apparently in the region of 869.3 million. Which is quite a lot.

With the onset of social media, the art of conversation has taken a downward turn, often as not, you’ll type a meaningless platitude to a mate, rather than stimulate or interest a new friend at the bus stop of life. I spoke to an architect on the tube the other day – quite nonchalantly, really, which led to a further friendly conversation with an elegant French woman. The architect probably designed elegant buildings, mind.

It was unfortunate I had to get off before the conversation really took hold, but it was pleasurable saying interesting things to interesting people. About politics, recent tragedies, Brexit – in three minutes, several columns of a decent Sunday newspaper could have been filled, not only was I interested in what they had to say, they were equally keen to hear from me.

In our throwaway society, conversation has become disposable, but it shouldn’t be: it should rest within our conscientiousness, halfway between lust and hunger, a combination of intrigue, inquisitiveness and nosiness. I normally don’t have the faintest idea who anyone is on the underground or overground, a scintilla of info is inordinately satisfying. Not for any particular reason, other than this:

Many of the millions of words we utter are spurious, repetitive, forgotten, almost from the point they spring from our lips; but if you strike up a dialogue with someone you don’t know about something you’re thinking about, you are far more likely to feel the burr walnut warmth of a social glow, rather than the staccato plastic of vacuous waffle.

Try telling your partner or a close friend something different from the norm, they’ll wonder what pub you’ve come from.

We need to reinvent and re-energize the art of conversation; as social animals, if we continue typing into our smartphones ad infinitum – as I am now – our evolutionary direction will be towards platitudinous rhetoric, as incongruous as a wet biscuit dunked in a hot drink, and as soggy as the outcome.

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