The art of conversation. Have we lost it?

Recently a Dutch supermarket introduced a “Chat Checkout” specifically geared toward seniors. They did so, according to the article, because “in the Netherlands (and in many other countries) loneliness amongst elderly people is very common.” In fact, the report goes on to suggest that research indicates “about 50% of people 55 years and older, experience loneliness.”

The Chat Checkout

The Chat Checkout is meant to offer respite, in the form of a conversation, to lonely senior shoppers. In this way, presumably, your local grocery store is responsible now not only for feeding your body but also your soul. I’m not sure I need a “chat checkout” but I do think this is a shining example of just how lost the art of conversation really is.

The chat checkout ensures that at least one kind, caring person (albeit someone being paid to do so) takes the time and effort to look up from their electronics (in this case a cash register) and to actually interact with their fellow humans! What a novel concept, paying someone to engage in the very basics of human nature. A cynic might question how it has come to this – that a supermarket is being lauded for its efforts to actually provide customer service in the form of a few social niceties that will apparently make my day a whole lot better. I suppose in our increasingly “do it yourself” self-checkout world such a gesture is unique and may be appealing to some but for me? A couple of things come to mind: the first is, “what makes you think just because I’m a mature adult (or whatever other euphemism for getting older you want to employ) I’ll want to have a conversation or – for that matter – that I’m even lonely?” Second, frankly – sometimes I escape to the supermarket for the express purpose of getting away from other people, namely my family! I don’t want a chat checkout; I want a full-service express lane that allows me to sip wine while I wait for you to finish bagging up my groceries!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure for some this little social nicety might just be the highlight of their day. If that’s the case, fill your boots and head on down to your local supermarket and demand something similar. I’m not sure with the current push to employ as few people as possible that you’ll get very far but hey – it’s worth a try. My personal experience with my local “discount retailer” would indicate I have a far better chance of striking up a conversation with the 42 other people in line while we all wait to be served by the three checkouts that ARE open. By the time it’s my turn I’ve learned the entire life story of the lady behind me who has three kids, a deadbeat husband, had emergency gallstone surgery in her early 30’s and who is shopping for her ailing, aging mother whose……yup, you guessed it….lonely. Good thing too because the overworked cashier? She has ZERO interest in striking up a conversation with me!

I suppose if I’m truthful, the other reason this rankles is that I resent the implication that all seniors are so starved for conversation that we’ll willingly trod on down to the local grocer just for the sake of a “hello.”  Perhaps also I’m a little annoyed that 50+ is considered senior. I mean really? I’ve still got two teenagers at home, a line of credit going up not down, and responsibilities toward my own mother (who really is a senior citizen – at least according to me!) I get plenty of conversation, much of it unsolicited and I’m really not looking for more. Some human decency, a person who glances up from their phone once in a while, smiles and says hello? That would be nice. Folks who actually engage with other folks – you know – just because. That would be awesome. The art of conversation is dead. But a “chat checkout?” Nope. I’m not buying it.

Written by Sheralyn Roman

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