No, I Will Not Carry Your Conversation

Posted on July 20, 2011 by

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By Anthony Dean-Harris

In this era of constant communication and multiple mediums of contact, I’ll often find myself trapped in awkward conversations. Of course, many conversations I have end up to be awkward, but there’s something to be said about the instant message box that pops up on my computer screen, usually right when I’m cozying up to Hulu for an episode of God knows what (side note: Is NBC’s Love Bites essentially the 21st Century version of Love American Style?). I blame Facebook for this problem. Because I am a completionist, my instant message amalgamating program runs Facebook Chat constantly. This is usually a handy feature to have until some person with whom I haven’t spoken in months or so decides to strike up a conversation with my most hated of questions, “Hey. What’s up?”

The difference between this being annoying to me on Google Chat or AIM and this happening on Facebook is the fact that the medium through which this conversation is about to take place inherently includes the answer to this question. If we live our lives on the internet, and a bulk of our conversations are taking place on the internet, why would someone not check the internet to update himself/herself of the happenings of someone’s life before sequestering them?

It’s astoundingly annoying when someone I haven’t spoken to in a year asks me “Hey, are you still doing that radio thing?” It’s moreso annoying when I get this question repeatedly from different people, all of whom didn’t check my Facebook page in the first place to see if “volunteer DJ” didn’t suddenly change from “currently” to an actual end date. If our Facebook pages are the FAQs of our lives, please check them before calling Customer Service.

So once people are asking me these rudimentary questions, I have learned to set my heels in and be as curt as possible. If I ever needed a lawyer, s/he would adore me. I never answer more than what’s asked of me. Normally this would stop a conversation in its tracks. The volley would go back and forth three or four times, each one never growing over a gentle hum. Each one have the same potential to fizzle out just as quickly as its made.

Random Person: Hey! How are you?

Me: Fine

[pregnant pause]

Random Person: You still doing that radio thing?

Me: Yep, about two years now

[pause]

Random Person: How’s that going?

Me: It’s going alright

This is about the point where I’m yelling at my computer, or really to the person on the other side of the country who didn’t have the wherewithal to check my Facebook wall for the weekly playlists, or the interesting articles, or the statuses of commentary of how my life is going, or any of the other minutia that folks are known to congest the air with over our laptops and smartphones. It is for these reasons that I don’t worry about the future of internet’s full disclosure. You may never be quite sure who’s checking your profile but the number you may have in your head of how many may be somewhat skewed.

Of course, this makes me sound purist and, might I add, a bit of a dick. I’m well aware of this but I say this today to say I’m setting some standards. I’m drawing a line in the sand. Just as job interviews should not take place if the interviewer hasn’t even glanced at the résumé presented, I will not carry a conversation on Facebook without an invisible, passive-aggressive tone of begrudgement if the questions are asking cursory personal details about my life that I already put out in a very public forum. Anything else is repeating myself and a waste of my time. At the very least, I can get snippy about things and be somewhat justified.

Come to me when you want to know my deeper feelings about Stephen Colbert starting a SuperPAC or if you wanted to know how I felt about Pat Metheny seemingly refusing to play with other human beings for too many projects recently (Really, Pat? You did a solo album again this year after you played with a bunch of robots last year?). Ask me about some new beer I’ve tried or tell me yet again why you feel I should just sit down for a billion hours and watch The Wire in one sitting and it won’t feel like homework. Tell me about your new job or relationship or some awesome party you went to last weekend. If you’re going to strike up a conversation, come correct. We live in an era in which we can now move beyond catching up. Some folks lament this but I say, if you really work at it, this opens us up for depth.

Add to that, I’m now following the improv rules as if I’m taking classes with the Upright Citizens’ Brigade. Questions leave a burden on the other person instead of share the scene’s responsibilities for all. Asking a question of the other person is not being where you are needed. Every motion should express “Yes, and…” to keep things in motion. The more I learn of these rules, the more I try to live my life around them. However, this also means I’m more obstinate about others also living by them, especially when they’re not doing their due diligence in striking up a conversation on me through Facebook chat.

Conversation is an art. It’s jazz music, but it’s not free jazz. It should have an arc and a framework. It should have rhythm and soul. It should come with a composition that’s free to turn into whatever each player brings to the table. There are of course soloists, but each piece flourishes when everyone listens and responds to one another. There should not be a burden for one person to shoulder, especially when that burden is hoisted from the person who called the session onto another at random when he’s trying to get his Misfits on. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if things fall flat.

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