Most social occasions now seem to kick off with a wasted hour or two. The time is spent discussing Covid: who’s had it and who hasn’t, who’s had the most nightmarish encounter with a mask fanatic and who the worst lockdown. After that there can be a second course, discussing things like international travel. Remember when we used to be able to book a ticket, put up with the indignities of the budget airlines but still arrive in any place we wanted? Now everybody has stories of friends and relatives they haven’t seen, places they can’t go, and experiences they’ve had to miss. The world has become a little smaller.
A perfectly dull evening can be spent rehearsing all this. It is all good boring stuff. War stories from a non-war. Perhaps in time a lifetime can be spent on such matters.
But my own sense is that some effort will have to be put into reversing the tendency. ‘Tell me something interesting though,’ is one way to generate the necessary conversational gear change. And occasionally — depending on the company you keep — you can get there. Often, of course, you don’t. But if you do manage it, then you can get on to the things that you’d like to imagine we all used to deal in: that gear where we swap enthusiasms and tell one another things we have learned and learn things we didn’t know. But whether or not such conversations really did happen much before Covid, they contained something that has begun to absorb me lately.
Largely because so much of life consists of a process of disenchantment. We learn this, or acquire it, from the earliest stages. One by one the enchantments fall away. You learn that you cannot fly, or do magic; that the dinosaurs will not come back.