Some time ago, I used to bartend at a hotel. One day an older gentleman entered the scene. He ordered a drink and asked how my day was. I said something, he said something, that conversation continued. After some light banter, he told me how surprised he was that I was so willing to chat him up.
“Most people your age have lost the art of casual conversation,” he said. “Everyone always has their nose in their phone, texting. They seem so anxious. ”
In the spirit of wanting to keep my job, I had to bite my tongue. But I do have a problem with that statement. Sure, we check our smartphones often: the average millennial exchanges 67 text messages per day according to Business Insider. And sure, nomophobia (fear of being out of cellular contact) might soon be a real phenomenon. But the modern generation is not inhibited. Texting enables us to stay in touch with business, friends, and family like never before.
When we talk about the modern world being anxious, we run into trouble, because the word “anxious” has different meanings. Separate from clinical anxiety, the idea of a group of people sharing a “collective anxiousness” can indicate something positive; i.e. a sort of shared eagerness. In fact, anxiety and excitement are closely related.
That’s the connotation to consider. In general, people are eager to create and rely on institutions that maximize efficiency. Technology parallels that eagerness and fills a necessity. Without mobile phones, it would be near impossible to function in a world that requires all of us to move a mile a minute. It’s no wonder then, that text messaging has established itself as the dominant form of communication in recent years, in both the personal and business spaces.
In the business world, staying competitive is essential to survival. That means staying ahead of technology trends. I personally use texting to keep in touch with my friends and family, and I would argue that it actually enables me to talk more with the people I care about. Texting is also my preferred way to be contacted by businesses in almost every industry — from banking, to dentist appointments, to hair salons.
I don’t believe we have lost the art of conversation. If I could go back in time, I would challenge that gentleman at the bar to observe technology in this new context. Can we transform our anxiety to excitement? Can we embrace technology, not as a cop out, but rather as a valuable tool for productivity and communication? I wonder if he would be able to see it my way.