In a world of tweets, texts and posts, South Australian Pat Lane is hoping a sweet and simple gesture will do big things.
“We’ve all lost the art of communication,” said 75-year-old Mr Lane, as he sipped a cup of tea at a Mount Gambier cafe.
“It is a very worrying trend; conversation is the most important thing we can have. I mean, family conflicts are usually resolved by chatting.
Confessing that he gets “browned off” seeing people’s heads always angled towards their digital devices whenever he visits cafes and restaurants, Mr Lane set out to do something about it.
Working with Mount Gambier City Council’s Denise Richardson, the pair created a simple card designed to spark conversation between strangers.
Hundreds of cards have been circulated to the town’s cafes for people to request and place in plain view on their table.
The idea sprang from a visit to Broken Hill, when Mr Lane and his wife Olive went to a local cafe to get a coffee.
“We thought maybe we could do something about that. Then I lost Olive.”
In October last year, Mr Lane’s wife passed away before she could see their plan realised.
But Mrs Lane’s memory is there on every card, in the simple border of red roses.
“Olive always loved and worshipped a saint called the Little Flower, Saint Therese,” Mr Lane said with a smile.
“So the little red roses are for her.”
Most cafe owners Mr Lane and Ms Richardson approached said “What a wonderful idea” and were delighted to stock the cards.
Mount Gambier cafe worker Kate Henke said it was a common sight to see solo diners tapping away on their mobile phones or reading a newspaper.
A devoted ‘people watcher’, she thinks the cards are a great social experiment.
“It’s a way for someone to sit down and have a chat with someone they’ve never met before [and] bring conversation back in.”
Mr Lane said it was an amusing few months of discussions to get the design of the small card exactly right to appeal to multiple generations.
The wording, colour and even the font were hotly debated before the final design was decided upon.
“When you see the card you’ll think ‘what the hell have they been doing for six months’,” Mr Lane laughed.
For those who struggle with what to say, the card even has three starter questions inside to kickstart the banter.
“Where do you come from?” is Mr Lane’s favourite conversation-opener because he said it was a question that got the chat flowing.
“It’s not a yes or no answer. You always try to ask the first question that makes people talk,” he said.
As for teenagers and 20-somethings, Mr Lane said he was often confounded by how some valued technology as a means of constant communication.
“I know with my grand-kids, I have trouble talking to them,” he said.
“They always have their heads in their mobile phones or iPads all the time. They even say ‘Shhh, Granddad!’
Mr Lane wants his small movement to have a big impact and is hoping the idea catches on in cafes and eateries across Australia and perhaps one day, the world.
“I would hope we’d get to the stage where we wouldn’t need the cards,” he said.
“We’d walk in, someone would be on their own and I would say to them ‘Would you like to have a conversation?’
“Wouldn’t it be a great world if you could walk in, there were people sitting around at the table, and they accepted you?
“That would be my ultimate.”