Story: The Forgotten Art of Conversation

February 21, 2024

Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

Ananya Badithe’s tale of how an uncharged phone led to a real connection

Almost two years with this group yet I’d barely made a friend.

We were given a 15-minute break as usual during our lesson. While most people went out to get some air, I decided to stay in class. I was avoiding feeling awkward. I had no motivation to make conversation in the cold.

So for the next quarter of an hour, it was just one guy, two girls and me. I’d noticed before, the guy always stayed in at break. I couldn’t get a sense of whether he was avoiding others or he simply didn’t want to go outside. He seemed quite content focusing on his phone.

The other two girls sat quietly on either side of the room. The girl sitting closest to me, wearing a cool red top, was usually pretty comfortable in the company of others. She seemed equally relaxed just sitting there alone. The other girl, near the door, pulled self-consciously at her hair, her eyes darting from her phone to the window, an air of anxiety surrounded her. She looked insecure – just like I felt.

I couldn’t work out where I stood amongst this small group; hard for me to tell, I guess. But my gut spoke for itself, twisting and tightening, making its presence known every time I walked into that class and just before the lesson.

All the others in the room were all versions of myself, all parts of the same person; reflecting what we all feel in our lives: fear, pain, boredom, purpose, joy.

We are all human, different shades of grey.

Usually, at such a moment, I would bring my phone out and dig into the ‘real’ world. But today, my phone was low on charge and I wanted to save the battery for my journey home.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing engaged me. I stared into nowhere.

I turned it off and threw it in my bag. For a few moments I tried to convince myself that I had things to do. I leafed through my physics textbook, glanced at the question paper on my desk, started sketching, but nothing.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing engaged me. I stared into nowhere. Seeing how lost I looked, the girl near me asked, “You okay?” and chuckled.

“Yeah! So sleepy though. My phone’s nearly dead and I need it for the bus. For music,” I sighed with a smile, “It’s crazy how without my phone I can’t think of a single thing to do…”

“I know. It gets so awkward with people at this point. Everyone is in their own world,” she responded. “Where are you from again?” she asked, perhaps in hope of continuing the conversation.

“India,” I replied.

“Oh wow! My dad’s been there. He went to the non-capital cities though.”

“Even better, the real essence of any country is in the locale. And what about you? Where are you from?”

With each word, each detail, the girl became a fuller, friendlier person to me. Everyone has a story, experiences, an inner world to share. That realisation cannot simply be read and registered. It can only be felt, conveyed through a conversation.

We spoke some more; she told me about her family and showed me pictures of her hometown. We empathised with each other about living in a city where we hadn’t grown up and that didn’t share our culture.

For the first time ever, I felt grateful that my phone was dying

We connected and agreed on so many things. We exchanged thoughts, feelings and laughed.

For the first time ever, I felt grateful that my phone was dying.

This isn’t just an isolated moment. It’s a microcosm of a growing disconnect symptomatic of this technological age. How many stories have I missed? How many voices have I blocked out? Hiding in cyberspace, in a world with ironically very limited connection.

How strange that it never occurred to me to spark up a conversation with the girl who was sitting but a few feet away.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s no one to blame. The growing presence of social media in the world is simply a progression, a transition in society. What are humans, if we don’t move forward?

About two days later, I was walking along the corridor and bumped into the girl in the cool red top. We both stopped and chatted for a while.

One conversation led to another and now, a couple of weeks later, we share a bus ride to college and back whenever possible. We talk about deep things we wouldn’t share with many others. We resonate with each other’s beliefs, ideas and feelings and, although we originate from very different backgrounds, they have led us to a similar understanding of the world.

Emotions are universal and I feel so much more grounded when I share them with someone in real life.

And all it took to remind me of this rewarding way of connecting was an uncharged phone. I’ve taken to switching off my phone more often and I’m so grateful for the new connections that have blossomed in my life because of it.

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