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Thursday, November 11, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 58

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Should we take more time talking?

By Marcus Cardenas

Stop me if you've heard this one: Two guys walk into a bar and have an intelligent conversation.

Pretty funny, huh? I challenge you to have a five-minute conversation with a friend today and not mention the word "drunk." Or without mentioning a party. Or about being drunk at a party. Have fun trying. The art of conversation is lost. In its place is cookie-cut small talk and benign chatter:

"Hi. How are you doing? So how's ... uhhh ... school? Well, that's good. Hey, I gotta get going. Nice talking to you. See you later."

That's just small talk, which is actually what many of us speak most of the time. However, on rare occasions you can hear someone hold a fairly long conversation on his cell phone:

"So how was your weekend? That's good. Really, how trashed? No way, another one next weekend? Dude, count me in. Did you fail that government test? Yeah, me too. Cool. Later, bye."

Riveting. I don't mean that something publishable should be uttered every time we open our mouths. It's just that the conversations we have now are so ... well ... boring.

Perhaps the lack of depth in our words and thoughts could be attributed to a fear of independence or sticking out. No one wants to be the lone dissenter in a group. No one wants to make any waves. And with political correctness hounds roaming the streets looking for anything the least bit offensive, many of us are afraid to say anything, period.

Could television be partially to blame? Why not -- it's being blamed for every other dilemma these days.

Television has shortened our attention spans. That's why what we see is becoming bigger, faster, and more ratings-driven. The television stations don't want to lose our attention. Even in movies, directors know they have to keep up with our wandering brains. That's why in Armageddon there is a very long stretch toward the end of the movie where not one camera shot lasts longer than four seconds.

This trend has spilled over into our conversations as well. We can't hold a conversation because we can't think very hard for long periods of time. We don't want to. If only conversations had commercials. Television has allowed us to abandon our imaginations for hours at a time. Television will do our thinking for us. It will tell us what's funny to say, what's appropriate to wear, and when and how we should think.

Dissension never, Ally forever (be careful, that may stick in some heads). MTV has even gone through the trouble of providing for us the Real World. Television is also a major contributor to our culture, which looks down on the intellect and the people who choose to use theirs. We don't like to read or hear about smart people. We envy them.

"They're losers," we say. Or should I say we hope? People don't want to sound like they've studied or are the least bit erudite, because they don't want to sound arrogant, like they're showing off their minds.

Many of us are also afraid to hear new things or ponder over meaningful questions or ideas, because pondering means thinking, and who wants to think when we could recite "classic" lines from Friends instead? It's reasons like these that cause certain writers to believe it necessary to take a week off from writing about thought-provoking, debate-inducing issues and write fluffy commentary on a mall.

Perhaps it's not just because we don't want to sound intelligent. Perhaps many people don't sound intelligent because they simply aren't. How many of us watch the news -- and I don't mean The Daily Show? Do we watch it every day? How many of us read the Houston Chronicle, other than the sports section and the movie listings?

How many of us have watched Headline News for reasons other than waiting for a particular sports score to flash on the bottom of the screen?

Lost is the art of conversation. And unfortunately, gone with it may be the notion of intelligence.
 

Cardenas, a junior creative writing major,
can be reached at geminimeg88@hotmail.com.
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