Thursday, September 20, 2007
Small Talk is Cheap
I was at a certain "arts festival" in the Nevada desert a few weeks back and though there were a lot of amazingly creative things going on---visually, musically, performance-wise---there's one thing that really stuck with me from the whole experience: a noticeable lack of small talk. For an entire week, I'd meet and interact with total strangers, playing, singing, and improvising. And it was all on the basis of what was happening at that moment, whether that was our costumes, or the dust clouds that just went by or some random nonsense or WHATEVER.
But not once during the whole week did anyone ask "what do you do?" or any of the other standard getting to know you chit chat. It was incredibly freeing. I didn't even consciously notice it was happening until mid-week or so when I reached a comfortable lull in conversation with a new found friend and the question "what do you do back home?" crept across my consciousness for a split second. But before it actually crossed my lips, we just started talking about the phenomenon of small talk.
I can't deny that "getting to know you" talk is an integral part of our socialization and I'm not saying that it's bad in and of itself or that we need to abolish it. But there's a certain quality of small talk that I've experienced as having an unnecessary heaviness to it. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it feels like I'm lowering my head to enter a smaller room. Like the real conversation we were just having had to stop so we can do this little dance we do because we have to. I can't quite describe it, but let's just say I find it's so much more fun to define ourselves by creating conversation that's centered around shared experience, rather than running through job descriptions.
This reminds me of the time I ran into an old friend on the dance floor at the after party of an awards ceremony. The music was so loud and infectious that all we did was hug, dance, make faces at each other and laugh---it was brilliant. And at that moment, without any words, I knew exactly what she was up to and how she was doing.