Roger Marolt: If you can’t be (present) with the one you love, love the one you’re Snapchatting
I was at the Aspen roundabout the other day waiting to enter and continue making my way back to the village when a woman with the right-of-way coming from Castle Creek Road just stopped in the middle of it, stared me down, and held her hand out in a sarcastic “after you” gesture. I was perplexed, but proceeded. As I did so, she flipped me off and mouthed something that could have been mistaken for “rational,” but wasn’t.
We came from different directions, so I couldn’t have cut her off. I was at a complete stop waiting for my turn to get into the traffic circle. My car is clean. My hair was neat. I had no idea which sin I committed.
By the time I made it to Owl Creek Road it occurred to me. I had been singing. Some people sing in the shower, I sing in my car. I believe people who are singing are happy, so I sing. If the song on the radio is right, I sing loudly. The lady who flipped me off probably saw me Carpool Karaokeing to a song with some punch to it — looking back, maybe AC/DC — and she thought I was yelling at her. It fits.
I would like to apologize, but only had she actually heard me singing, would I have something to apologize for. Attempting to sing along to “Hells Bells” is a risky undertaking — let’s just say you can’t hum it — so, I figure, whatever I got, I had it coming. In the end, it was kind of cool to be misunderstood in an actual human-to-human moment rather than in an email or Instagram photo.
I was telling this story this weekend over dinner in a cabin far out in the woods, 10 miles from cellphone reception or a wifi connection. It is the kind of place that clearly shows our world is divided in two. Everyone agrees that we can’t live without cellphones and the internet, but there are those who love to try for a weekend and there are others who look at that possibility as they would a death sentence pronounced on them for a crime they didn’t commit. The former would offer to bring all the wine and food in exchange for an invite to a place like this while the later will simply blurt out that they are not going, without fiddling around with made-up excuses about other plans.
At any rate, I found it quite pleasurable to tell my story about getting flipped off to this group around the table in the middle of nowhere. I had their undivided attention and they knew they had mine when it was their turn to one-up me. It wasn’t about being polite. It was about processing warmth radiated by natural hues of peoples’ faces and not the blue tint you get when everyone is looking at the phone in their laps.
There was a nostalgic feeling about it, like at some point in our lives we did a lot more of this and we knew a lot more about who we were hanging out with because of it and, when we felt emotionally closer, we shared all kinds more stuff, including things that wouldn’t make anyone laugh or feel better, but you did after talking through it with them.
It’s not fun for me to think that we are losing the greatest source of authority we all used to turn to when providing backup information for our stories. We are quoting “they” a lot less these days. With Google at every finger’s tips, “they” have become virtually silent. They say Google makes life less interesting, and I agree.
In many ways, distracted conversation may be more long-term dangerous than distracted driving. It kills heart and soul. I wish I could say I read this in a study “they” published, but it is really only a feeling I have.
The worst thing about distracted listening is not that nobody hears the punchline of a joke anymore, much less remembers how the story began. If that was it, big deal; there is always the laugh track on “Friends” reruns to watch by ourselves on Netflix. This is not about forgetting to stop at the store on your way home from work and pick up a few things for dinner because we weren’t listening well. It’s not about the dopamine from a “like”on Facebook. It’s not about a heads-down, thumbs-up Emoji attached to a text message.
The worst thing about distracted listening is that we make every person who takes the time to spend a few minutes with us within hugging distance feel like the the least important person on the planet. That’s what happens when everyone on the internet comes first.
Roger Marolt thinks artificial intelligence is the glue that holds artificial conversation together. firstname.lastname@example.org