There is a bench, in a wood. Three people sit on it, one lady and two men. They are not young, and have reached the time when going out for the day means a little light pruning in the garden.
The woman has long, fair hair, and is smoking a roll-up. The man next to her, who happens to be her husband, has long grey hair tied in a ponytail and a rough beard. The second man, with whom I have an intimate relationship, since he is me, has almost no hair, fair or grey, but rather than be described as bald, which sounds so stark and final and, well, so bald, he prefers to be thought of as balding. He wears a hat, which he ludicrously thinks makes him look younger and possibly a little unconventional, in a conventional kind of way.
They have a dog, who ambles from one to the other to receive a pat and tickle, and an avuncular hello. The dog belongs to the bald man, or maybe that should be the other way round, and rolls over for a tickle and rub from time to time. Any of the three might do this job for her. That’s OK, she will accept a stomach rub from any of them.
They are side by side on the bench, talking, in a desultory way, about something they know nothing about. It is a delightful mixture of guesswork and fantasy. These conversations don’t happen anymore, because a young person in the group would get their smart phone out, Google the problem, and, hocus pocus, the conversation is over.
Then the phone would be passed around for everyone to peer at a screen in the sunlight, and pretend to have read the proof that everything said so far had been a load of poo. This happens particularly with memories and trivia about pop music, which used to be such a rich mine of pointless and enjoyable human contact.
These three didn’t own a smartphone or i-pad between them. They had heard of Minecraft but didn’t know, or care, what it was. They were dressed in the depth of fashion, but didn’t know what the current fashion was, anyway. The balding one was wearing elasticated, comfortable trousers that he remembers swearing no-one would ever see him in.
The discussion was about the dark net, from a starting position of almost zero knowledge. Encryption and surveillance were pondered, with, it has to be said, a certain pride and amusement that the CIA or GCHQ might be listening in to them online.
It was bizarre and fun, and no-one was trying to score points by getting the right answer from a Google search. No-one was trying to put others down by producing a definition in a typeface too small for ancient people to read. We can’t even see the phone, let alone the writing!
But we can talk about anything for hours, because we don’t need to know what’s really going on, because what we are actually doing is making and maintaining human contact and real live friendships, not analysing the dark net.