Let’s talk. I don’t say that lightly. Let’s talk about anything and see where it leads us. Let’s talk about things we didn’t even know we wanted to talk about. I’m on my knees, which I’ll prove to you on Zoom.
I put this out there for a reason, on another day where it seems hard to find a reason to do anything. Six months into the Grayness I see I don’t miss movie theaters, restaurants, even most of my friends; I miss conversation. I miss how you fall in love someone you’ll never see again through a conversation you didn’t expect to have. Zoom calls are a marvelous invention, although as with most Modern Breakthroughs the only truly marvelous thing about it is finding out you can do it at all. After that, it — whatever it is — pales, and you go back to the old way (which hasn’t happened yet). True conversation doesn’t demand a level of presentation, flattering lighting, fiddling with controls and crying I lost you! I hate this thing!Can you hear me? True conversation, like a true friend, doesn’t mind if you wander, and in fact encourages it, as the wandering is a good sign that you feel free enough to wander, to relax in the just being with someone that conversation inspires.
And for all its wonders there’s none of the necessary just-being-with-someone with Zoom. The technology is the someone; it has no warmth, no comforting human curiousity, and doesn’t pretend to, unlike the social media platforms which pretend to have warmth. The name “Zoom” as much as says no musing, please, get to the point, don’t let the door slam behind you. There’s a Nora Ephron essay in which she describes what starts out as a pleasant evening with friends. Nice dinner, good coffee, a torte but not a cake, general name-droppy-schmoozing in the kitchen while you (or Nora) do the dishes yourself (“Thursday’s our Just us night”) which gives way to trying to remember the name of some wonderful old character actor in some wonderful old movie. Some helpful person does a little Googling and in two seconds has the name — Thomas Mitchell! Franklin Pangborn! Eugene Pallette! — and Ephron points out the answer kills the evening. No one really wanted the answer. They wanted the conversation that circled it; we long for connection, not information.
I tested this theory/observation not too long ago, during a strenuously merry Zoom birthday party. I wrote out a question that I didn’t know the answer to, that could be answered — this was a movie lover’s birthday, one of the guests was even an Oscars Rainman — but would at least lead to interesting speculation and might sprout odd tributaries along the way. The question: who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1954? I dropped it in, casually, and someone said “Who knows? Let’s Google it!” But I stopped them. I told them about the social experiment I had in my mind — to see if not knowing is still bearable? — and the result was a terrific conversation that jumped from Bob Hope to the Vietnam War to Sacheen Littlefeather and on and on. The question was forgotten, and the evening was saved.
And it was Donna Reed, by the way. Yes, that one. In From Here to Eternity, a movie set during WWII that is somehow about a time like ours, when no one knew what was coming and had to live their lives and have conversations that could go where they would go. See it, if you haven’t, and then call me. We’ll talk.
Richard Kramer is a writer living in California.