Below the surface

Below the surface, things are not always what they seem. Some years ago I went scuba diving in the Florida Keys with my friend Courtney. It was boat diving – the dive master takes you and all the equipment out on a motorboat to some spot where there is a particularly beautiful reef, then you suit up, go down off the side of the boat and explore the reef while he waits up on the surface.

Those of you who”ve done it know that scuba diving is a lovely but somewhat peculiar experience, from a social perspective. One moment you and your friend are chatting away in the boat, talking about whatever, and then suddenly you are both plunged into a world of total silence – a kind of self-imposed deafness – in which all you can do is gesture and point. Communication is abruptly reduced to the equivalent of “check out this thing over here,” and, “wow, that’s a cool eel, isn’t it?” But it’s really ok. You didn’t come all the way out here to chat. You can do that over a beer on shore afterward, comparing notes about the school of clown fish you both saw, or the barracuda that swam by, almost close enough to touch.

On this particular day there were only four passengers on the boat – the two of us and a couple that at first seemed very quiet. Courtney and I soon realized that they were quiet because they were deaf – from time to time one of them would sign something, and the other would sign back. By the time we were all suiting up the other couple were signing continuously, presumably discussing all the things they were hoping to see on the dive.

Finally everyone was ready to dive, the dive master gave everyone’s equipment a last safety check, and one by one the four of us went over the side. It took me a while after we were submerged, plunged into a world of watery silence, to register the fact that the other couple had not even paused in their conversation. There below the surface, swimming through the coral reefs, amidst the sunfish and clown fish, moray and barracuda, the two of them were still chatting merrily away, while Courtney and I looked on in dumb astonishment.

It was a humbling experience.

One thought on “Below the surface”

  1. That reminded me of an interesting rant about programmers that can’t touch type. It’s like a world with self imposed communication limitations.

    Hopefully one day we can thought-send and be done with all these sloppy mediums of communication.

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