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Con·ver·sa·tion [kon-ver-sey-shuhn]

Noun

1. Informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.

2. An instance of this.

3. Association or social intercourse; intimate acquaintance.

4. The ability to talk socially with others:

Example: She writes well but has no conversation.

In a not so distant future, the word "conversation" might become so archaic that Merriam-Webster will decide to strike it from its pages. People are conversing less and less these days. Recent studies show that more than 85 percent of adults own cell phones and 80 percent prefer text messaging to talking. The Pew Center's Internet and American Life Project confirms that young adults actually prefer getting and receiving text messages rather than having voice conversations.

Last Saturday, I was dining with my husband and friends at a very nice local restaurant. The people sitting at table on either side of us in the restaurant were not young but they were texting. The woman in the couple on our left was checking her messages, while the man of the couple to our right was reading his smart phone. An uncomfortable silence prevailed at each table. "Did you discover anything?" the husband of the texting woman asked when she looked up as her dessert was set down in front of her. What kind of discoveries could she have made, I wondered, assuming she was not the CEO of something important, and that no one she loved was having emergency surgery.


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The couple on my right had less to say. In fact, I don't think they uttered a single word to each other during their entire meal. While the wife ate her salad, the husband continued to work his phone. I wished I had the chutzpah to repeat the comment I read on the Internet. The writer was dining out with his girlfriend. The couple at the table next to them ordered their food, and then the husband took his Blackberry out of his pocket and began sending emails for the next 10 minutes while his wife sat across from him in silence. Finally, the commenter turned to the woman and said, "You seem to be dining alone. Would you like to join us for dinner?"

n

Someone else posted, "It is not all right to text (or listen to one's iPod, or speak on the phone) in a restaurant. So far as I'm concerned, it's a serious breach of public etiquette to use any device which, by its nature, creates private ‘space' in public. I do realize, however sadly, that that particular ship has sailed. That said, texting or speaking on the phone in a restaurant any nicer than McDonald's is completely verboten."

Zagat posed the question about how people feel about cell phone use in restaurants to surveyors nationwide and learned that the majority "consider texting, tweeting, emailing, etc. from the table to be a "no-no" while dining out."

"Surveyors in the Northeast report the highest regional average (64 percent were annoyed by this behavior) while the South ranks the lowest (54 percent annoyed). But, overall, the most discerning diners hail from Connecticut and Westchester (N.Y.), with reported averages of over 70 percent each, while diners in New Orleans and Atlanta come in as the least irritated, with around 50 percent in both cities."

Some restaurants actually encourage "Facebook checking" where people post where they are at a given time. Sometimes diners photograph their entrees and desserts and appetizers and post them on Facebook. All that serves as good PR for the establishment even if Miss Manners would be horrified. There is even a restaurant in L.A. that has begun to offer diners small plates for their phones in order to protect them from crumbs and spills.

But I am on the side of those who think there should be "device-free" zones, and restaurants should be among them. Otherwise, we will not only be hungry for food, but starved for conversation. As Sherry Turkle wrote in a New York Times story last year, "We are tempted to think that our little "sips" of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don't. Email, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places -- in politics, commerce, romance and friendship. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation."

Text verb

Transitive verb

1. To send a text message from one cell phone to another intransitive verb

2. To communicate by text messaging

Example:

1. I texted her a little while ago.

2. I texted a message to her.

Or what about: She texts well but has no conversation.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.