by Varda One

Talk’s cheap, but there’s a lot of things you can’t afford to say


     Conversation died in Abasia at precisely 8:43:33 p.m. on January 31, sos3 at the home of Jeremy Heran and his friend Mason Coffer. These two men had spent most Sunday nights for the last twenty years keeping it alive with their Conversation Club.

     Jeremy, an anthropologist, was the first to see the oncoming demise of good talk due to the encroachment of television. He enlisted Coffer, an historian,to help him. “Conversation is essential to democracy,” said Jeremy.“It keeps people thinking. We can’t let it die.”

     “I’m afraid it already has, thanks to the telephone,” Mason replied, “but I’ll do what I can.”

     They invited several others who felt equally alarmed and had their first meeting in 1973 (pre video games, VCRs, cellular phones, personal computers) and hammered out a definition of conversation. Mason insisted it had to be human beings face to face. “No telephones. They offer only audio.”

     “What about phonevision?” asked someone.

     Mason shook his head. “Not good enough. Conversation must be full-bodied, including not merely words but also silence, facial expression, body language, proximity, a shared environment, body odor, blending of auras, and the ability to touch another. Computer scientists are developing machines that can ‘talk’ to people. This would preclude them.”

     Jeremy insisted that thinking be a criterion and that such transactions as “My policy number is RS2332-901-746-5 02”, Did you say “RS2332-902-756-503?”, “No, I said RS-2333-901-746-502” turned people into robots and was beneath the dignity of the word “conversation”. Everyone agreed.

     Someone commented that conversation should occupy center stage. It could not be two people watching TV and conversing only between commercials. “And there should be as few distractions as possible,” said Mason. “TV and radio off.”

     “What about eating?” someone asked.

     “I can’t properly satisfy my mental and physical hunger simultaneously,” said Jeremy. “If I’m having a wonderful chat, I eat mindlessly. And vice versa.” Some members thought this too harsh, others said the rule made sense with special meals, while the rest agreed with him. These became the Purists. Since they were the majority, there were only light snacks at the Sunday night meetings.

     Subsequent meetings brought more rules: no complaining, therapizing, or boasting. No platitudes or canned opinions. Dullness was out. No attacking or sneering. Disagreement must be done agreeably. This criterion above all others kept the Club alive.

     The popularity of help lines caused the No Advice rule. A conversation could not be one needy person calling someone for help or just to listen. And they could not be commercialized. These proscriptions came in handy with the rise of 900 numbers used by psychics and verbal pornographers.

     As the years went by, more inventions eroded conversations. Modems and faxes replaced telephone voice usage, answering machines and computerized phone systems brought more human/machine communications, videos kept millions mesmerized while fantasy games and virtual reality captivated the rest.

     Changes in social mores also contributed to the death of good talk. Global competition caused downsizing of companies, and this increased workloads. The pace of life quickened and thinking nosedived. Single-parent or two-working-parent families were too busy for coffee-klatches. Abasians became more mechanical and stupid, but few were smart enough to notice. This last especially hurt conversation because it required people with both leisure and skill, and they were becoming harder to find.

     There was actually more verbiage, thanks to satellites, car phones and beepers, so people never noticed that true communication, especially conversation, was dying. After all, look at the number of talk shows. And everyone still gossiped. They were so used to pseudo-talk: have a nice day, take care, get real, get a life, that they failed to detect that something was disappearing. A riot occurred because a mayor and a police chief hadn’t talked to each other for a year. Bills requiring millions for appropriations were passed, despite the fact that not one legislator had read and discussed them. Strangely, or perhaps because of this, more communications texts appeared: how to talk to your pit bull, how to converse with your weeds, how to relate meaningfully with your mechanic, how to give politically correct orders to your illegal alien. These made little dent since Abasians read mostly computer manuals.

     Because of these factors, the Conversation Club’s members dwindled from a high of eighteen to a lowly two: the founders Jeremy and Mason, who kept it alive for four years. Then on Macho Day—Superbowl Sunday—after nearly all of Abasia had sat in a football glaze, Jeremy and Mason spent the evening discussing conversation itself.

     “Have we expected too much?” asked Jeremy. “Maybe conversation was always elitist.”

     Mason put down his coffee cup. He leaned back in the blue wing chair as he’d done hundreds of times. “I suspect you’re right. But I still feel it was machines that delivered the death blow.”

     As he rose to leave he clutched his chest, cried out and fell to the floor.

     Jeremy tried to revive his old friend with CPR but was too late.

     Thus died the last conversation in Abasia. No one, except for Jeremy, even noticed.