Friday, February 19, 2016

Antidotes for conversation

Television is the perfect anecdote for unwanted conversation. I don't know how humans ever survived without it.
Lisa Lutz, Trail of the Spellmans

I have two comments about these lines from Trail of the Spellman, the fifth book in this unusual but delightful series of low-key mysteries:

1. Lisa Lutz must surely have meant antidote, not anecdote. I'm surprised neither Lutz nor her editors at Simon & Schuster caught the error before the paperback edition. It reminds me of when I did a parody of Reader's Digest when I was in high school. I gave it a medical theme and called it Bleeder's Digest. My favorite line was, "Have you an amusing antidote?"

2. The observation by detective Isabel Spellman, the novel's narrator, seems apt. Television does serve as the perfect antidote for unwanted conversation, or even wanted conversation. Even if conversation erupts during commercial breaks, it can be quickly silenced as soon as the program returns. "I want to hear this," someone will say. Thanks to DVRs, those conversation breaks can be all but eliminated altogether.

Television has been around for as long as most people living today have been around, but newer technology has proved to be even more effective antidotes to conversation. I'm thinking of phones (which are in many cases rarely used for actually talking with anyone), tablets, electronic games and earbuds. It's possible to be around other people all day long without exchanging more than a few words and certainly without having a real conversation.

I've been at social gatherings where just about everyone looked continually at their phones. Conversation consisted mostly of reading interesting things they turned up in their searches.

Yet most people still crave conversation with others. We seek it out, going to parties, churches, clubs, taverns, wherever we might find people to talk with. We just seem to have forgotten how to do it properly. Jo Marchant's book Cure, which I reviewed earlier this week, suggests that conversation with other people who care about us can go a long way toward keeping us healthy. Thus, conversation itself can be the antidote.

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