When I grew up there were coffee shops, not places that more or less exclusively served coffee and snacks. Coffee shops were diners and casual restaurants, which often had counters with stools for individuals. There was a local chain of them in our area that my family loved to frequent. Now, it’s fast food and Starbuck’s. But does a cup of coffee mean communication or just a cup ‘o joe while surfing the web, sitting alone, and isolated? Is it just the older retired people who actually meet at the local coffee spot to talk and people watch?
I’ve previously and regularly addressed my concerns that our kids are failing in the art of conversation. Whereas I spent hours on the phone – when my parents allowed it – speaking with my guy friends and later girl friends, my boys text as their primary form of communication. The actual cell-phone talk usage is negligible except for my wife and me. Not that my wife and me are actually speaking to each other!
And, even my phone habits have changed with the new technologies and how busy I am so much of the time. My primary phone time is when I’m driving somewhere at least 15 or so minutes. I then reach out to connect with family and friends and enjoy a real conversation. Or, I like to speak while walking around our nearby lake since I consider that a good dual use of my time. At home, I don’t even answer our land-line and only glance at my cell to see who it is and usually feel disturbed when it rings – yet not so when it beeps a text. Interesting, isn’t it?
When I ask someone to meet me for a cup of coffee, it’s because I actually want to communicate with him or her. It may be for business or it may simply be a friend, but I want to look them in the eye and engage. I wonder if the notion of a cup of coffee means the same to my kids, millenials, and others in their thirties or younger? How often do you see a group of young people – physically together – but each in their own worlds on their smart-phones? That sight always amuses me. How often have you texted your kid IN your own home?
The art of conversation is truly an art. It gives you a meaningful opportunity to know someone better, to learn, and to develop a meaningful and deeper personal or business relationship. In my first career in showbiz, everything was done over a meal or drink, it seemed. Getting a breakfast with someone of import was a coup; a lunch was better, and the home run was dinner. Why the difference? Because each had its own designated time-frame expectations. Breakfast was invariably rushed; lunch was a bit more relaxed, while dinner could be open-ended.
When my career in showbiz began, there were no cell-phones so the only interruption to face-to-face conversation – at a meal or drinks meeting – would either be the waiter, someone coming over to say hello, or the rare interruption from a phone call to the restaurant for one of us. That meant a rushed “excuse me” and going to the front desk, where a short but quick conversation would take place, usually involving very basic information sharing. It also usually entailed a bit of anxiety because getting such a call was unusual.
Wow, just writing the above makes me feel not only old but as if those practices are ancient and oddly quaint. They were anything but. They were great times. I made my career at those meals. I also made my career on the tennis court, selling my first television-movie to the head of movies at CBS, after securing a date with him to play on his home tennis court. Maybe the golf course still allows these kinds of interactions, but where else is it present today? Email? Texting? Twitter? Facebook? I think not. A deep relationship or a real connection takes more than 140 characters or a cute Instagram photo?
Today, I occasionally try these old methods of asking a potential business associate to meet for a meal, drink, or coffee. IF they are under thirty, the answer is invariably a No, followed by “let’s exchange emails or have a quick conversation on the phone.” The only time I’ve regularly been able to have meaningful face-to-face time has been at conferences and then, it’s often interrupted by cell-phone usage. See my recent column, The Value of IRL Conferences.
I completely value the tools of Social Media and modern technology but I may sound like an old fart by stating I miss the connections we used to make – regularly – by speaking on the phone and meeting for a meal or really having a cup of coffee together.
Bruce Sallan’s second book is an e-book only – “The Empty-Nest Road Trip Blues: An Interactive Journal from A Dad’s Point-of-View” – and costs a whopping $2.79 for PDF and $2.99 on Amazon/Kindle. Join Bruce and his extensive community each Thursday for #DadChat, from 6-7pm PST, the Tweet Chat that Bruce hosts.