I sat with my friend Toyin to talk about nothing. She mentioned sales at Debenhams. I went on about Monsoon, the clothing brand. She said she wanted to go to the beach. I talked about the three books I left on her coffee table. She pointed to the little boy in wellies splashing in the mud. I reminded her about our childhood, playing in white sand and filling our hair with it.
To me, conversation is pleasurable when we leave judgement at Heaven’s gate and manage to stop the clock from ticking. Multitasking, not to be confused with shared activity that carries conversation from point A to B, and multithinking are the bane of good conversation because if conversation is a way of telling our friends, “Please understand me,” then inattention is their way of saying, “We don’t want to.”
Toyin and I rambled until she checked her phone, “Thirteen notifications!”
I checked mine. “I miss my data coverage, I’m sure I have many notifications as well!”
She looked up and craned north, south, east, and west. “No free Wi-Fi in the park, sorry. Hey look!”
I looked at her phone, at the photo of the man and let my giggles collide with hers. “I’ve seen it before!”
Sometimes her thumbs moved over her keypad with the dexterity of a clerk from an era gone by. Other times her index finger slid across her screen, and she dropped odd bits of information here and there, like a child throwing pieces of bread to ducks at a pond. I kept my phone in my bag. Scrolling through old newsletters from writing, editing, and marketing groups, which caused my inbox to swell to 200 unread mails only made me determined to cancel my subscriptions. I drew circles in the ground with my sneakers.
She sighed and put her phone in her bag. “Why do we do this?”
I knew what she meant, why do we interject our conversations with episodes from social media as if our lives do not sizzle enough?
“Boredom?” I offered.
“No, we were really talking; then I wondered what other people were up to.”
She saw the twinkle in my eye. “I’m serious! It’s rude.”
“It’s not rude when everyone is doing it. It’s culture.”
“You sef!” She pushed me, but she did not apologise. “It’s possible to do without social media.”
I nodded. She told about how she forgot her phone at the office the weekend that her laptop also crashed. She couldn’t believe she’d survived that weekend without the internet.
“What did you do with all that time?”
“I slept, I read a book,” she shrugged.
Squeals from the family playing Frisbee in the distance caught our attention.
“In this time, we need another kind of fast. Food fasts won’t cut it anymore. We need social media fasts,” she said.
“Because if the purpose of a fast is to eliminate distraction and quieten the mind, then social media provides non-stop stimuli, from one link to the next. My appetite for the internet trumps my appetite for food.”
I nodded. The swings were finally free. I walked over, tugged the chains, and weighed their strength. Then I sat and had a go. She joined me.
“On your marks, get set, go!”
I rose higher and higher. I was winning. Then I thought of all the things that could go wrong. I slowed down and let her triumph.
Another kind of fast? I don’t know. Doesn’t the driver determine the speed of the car? Conversations on social media can be meaningful as well. Whatever the medium, the most expensive thing I can give anyone these days is my full attention.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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