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  • By Diana G Mendoza

Our lost conversations

Manila — American actress Jennifer Aniston, the most popular star of the ‘90s TV sitcom “Friends” that ended 13 years ago, offered a reason why the show would not be revived despite fans’ wishes. “If ‘Friends’ were created today, we would have a coffee shop full of people just staring into iPhones,” she said. “There will be no actual episodes and no conversations.”

I watched the 10-season “Friends” and still do today when I see reruns. It was about six 20 to 30-something friends who lived in Manhattan and who usually gathered in a coffee shop called Central Perk and talked forever.

“There was something about a time when our faces were not stuffed into cell phones. We weren’t checking Facebook and Instagram. We were in a room together; we were talking and having conversations. We have lost that,” the actress said.

I spent a lot of the ‘90s with friends who, like me, were young professionals trying to figure out what to do with our lives while we sat in in coffee shops. Like the fictitious Central Perk in “Friends,” coffee shops have become ubiquitous hangouts, so it has become more convenient to catch up with my friends in coffee shops – or any restaurant or store with seats or sofas in it and with our coffees on hand.

In many situations, the other free hand is holding a phone. We have mastered the art of looking up once in a while to catch up with what a friend is trying to tell us and at the same time staring at the phone to reply to a text or chat message, or just checking Twitter, while conversing with the friend.

Or are we still conversing? Are we talking? Most of the time, when a friend is talking to me and my phone sounds off, I excuse myself to say I’ll check my phone, or answer the call especially if I think it’s urgent. But I get annoyed when I’m the one talking and the person in front of me turns to the phone while I’m mid-sentence. How do you answer when, after the phone call or keypad clicking, the friend says, “Where were we?” or “What was that again?” One time, I answered, “Oh, forget it. I’ve told you this story before.”

Have we ever wondered if the person in front of us is more interested in the other individual he or she’s in contact with via the phone? Have we felt degraded when the person next to us is more interested in something that is going on somewhere else? Isn’t it bothersome that we showed up and were present but the person we’re having a face-to-face interaction with is “not there?”

While we wonder at instant access to information and prompt interactions with people through our gadgets, we have also become antisocial because we would sit together without talking to one another because we’re checking on our phones, tablets or computers. Modern gadgets and technology have become our reality and it continues to consume us.

We have lost our social skills. We have lost our manners. I think we need to go back to appreciating a person’s voice, eyes and hand gestures when we’re talking. We still can do this. We can set aside our phones and, like Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel in “Friends,” we get to interact with our friends Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey, horse around, praise each other, annoy each other and just stay in the moment. The TV show’s theme song “I’ll be there for you” was actually a representation of why we meet each other and have actual conversations.

Diana Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila. She wrote for the Manila Chronicle, Today, Business Mirror and Inter Press Service. She also worked as a media consultant for the Commission on Population and the Asian Development Bank.

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