I’m not talking about the fact that so many of us now spend hours and hours on social media, looking at and reacting to status updates from friends, getting our news 140 (or now 280 if you’re among the elite) characters at a time or watching video with slack jaws.
All of that takes up the time that, once upon a time, we spent interacting with one another. Walk the dog together? Actually pay attention to the kids’ games or school programs? Or – heaven forbid – have an actual conversation about something, anything, of real substance?
But the one I’m talking about involves questions, the ones we used to ask other people to start conversations or to move them in different directions or to keep them going.
It’s small talk. Which is an ironic label considering how huge it is on the scale of human interaction importance. It’s what leads to people getting to know one another, dating, getting married and having or adopting children. It starts friendships, gets us out of awkward situations, makes us (one can hope) likable.
Somewhere along the line, I learned the best way to get someone to like you is to get them talking about themselves.
Where are you from? What do you like to do? How’d you wind up being an account executive? What kind of music do you like? How’s your Mom doing? Is she still in remission? Where’d you go for vacation last year? Have you seen any good movies lately? Yeah, that’s a good one, but you should see this other one…
But these days, we know the answers to all those questions before we meet people face-to-face, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google + and all the rest.
Used to be impressive if you knew a few things about prospective clients and their company before you sat down across the table from them. But these days if you don’t it means you didn’t spend enough time on their social media platforms. And that alone makes you suspect.
It’s just as bad in social situations. No reason to ask Mark or Matilda about their trip to Bermuda because you’ve already seen all the pictures and updates, read their blogs and watched their videos.
Asking the questions to facilitate the conversation has lost its appeal. I mean, if everyone already knows the answers, what’s the point. Right?
“Where’d you go to school, Sally?” – “Look at my LinkedIn profile.”
“What’d you do on your trip, Mark?” – “It’s on my Facebook page. Loser.”
Truth is, I can do without small talk. But over the years, to appear more normal to others, I’ve learned how to make it.
But now, with social media revealing everything there is to know about someone before we even cross paths, there’s nothing left to small talk about.
So it goes.
No matter. I’m gonna keep trying to get people talking. It’s one of the few ways I ever learn anything. Besides, I never know what to say in those social situations, and standing there mute won’t do.
People’ll think I’m unsociable.