Small Talk

Image source: Preply

One of the reasons I started writing is to avoid small talk. I find that I spend a lot of time conversing with people about the same thing, to the point where I'm saying the exact same words in the exact same order to form the exact same sentences, usually in response to questions like, "How are you doing?" and "What's new?" Of course, the answers change as my life changes, but for periods of 1-6 months, the answers remain extremely static. I find it dull to regurgitate the same answer to friends during catch-up conversations when that time could be be spent talking about more stimulating topics. Instead of telling dozens of different people "how I'm doing" and "what's new" in individual conversations, I write to tell everyone in my life at once, on a regular basis.

From an evolutionary perspective, I think we would have typically known "what's going on" and "what's new" with the rest of our tribe, either through gossip, nightly stories, or direct witness or involvement. I don't think small talk is something we evolved doing much of, or if we did have small talk, there was purpose, variety, or pleasure in it. Now it feels like a chore, at least for me. It feels like small talk is the price to pay for a meaningful conversation. You have to do the work (small talk) to find the common ground, areas of mutual interest, and topics to dive into that make for a great conversation. What if there was a way around that, something that mimicked our tribal days, in some ways?

I think social media is partly a solution, but it's too shallow. Assuming my friends are regularly posting photos and captions, I can fairly easily keep track of where they are are traveling and how their kids are growing, and that's actually a decent way to more quickly get into good conversation ("I saw you were in Paris, how was it?") but even then, my friends have probably already had that conversation dozens of times. They will probably recite an answer to me that they've already told to many others, and sometimes I can feel that; I can feel their brains sort of switching off as they recite their lines about the trip to Paris. I would love it if I could go into a conversation with that friend already knowing, not only that they went to Paris, but that they loved the food, learned a bit of the language, and would consider retiring there someday for x, y, z reasons. Armed with that context and knowledge, I would dive in to asking them about which foods they enjoyed most and whether they noticed that everything was cooked in butter or olive oil, I would talk to them about retirement and the ideas I'm thinking of for down the road, and I would ask them about how they approach language learning and whether they'd recommend that approach.

Having a base level knowledge of "what's going on in this person's life" allows for much more meaningful time spent with friends and family because we skip the “facts" (where I went, what I did, who I was with, where I work) and jump to the stuff that makes conversations really special.

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