The ever present smartphone means people don’t bother striking up conversation with strangers anymore and self-confessed chatterbox Michelle Murphy isn’t one bit happy...
MODERN life is rubbish, Brit Pop group, Blur, once conceded. And there are times when I agree with them. Never more so then when I think of what so-called technological advances have done to our social skills.
Note, I said social, not communication, skills. People have no problem communicating. They just don’t seem to be able to spell properly or form entire sentences. Or break up with somebody face to face. Apparently, even prospective employers are informing people by text message that they were unsuccessful in their job applications.
I have often been described as ‘a lovely chatty girl’ by people of an older generation.
This was once considered a valuable asset, but it seems that the art of small talk is now hopelessly passé. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the ability to make nice with people you’ve only just met, no matter what their age or interests or background, is to be commended.
But the proliferation of smartphones means that oftentimes, when faced with the choice of chatting politely to a stranger at a social event or updating their Facebook status — “...Feeling bored” — many younger people will choose the latter, so engrossed are they in their own world. It’s a case of ‘me, myself and I-phone’, as it were.
You won’t be stuck for small talk if you meet me. Growing up just a mere seven miles away from that fountain of chat, the Blarney Stone, my brother-in-law once remarked of me that I hadn’t simply kissed the aforementioned monument, I had taken a bite out of it.
On first encountering you, I’ll quite happily, and with often only the slightest encouragement or, to be honest, sometimes none at all, divulge where I grew up, where I now live, how many siblings I have, my birth order within the family , my dog’s name and what I do for a living. The fact that this may not be of the slightest interest to you is neither here nor there, you understand.
I’ve always found it slightly puzzling when other people refer in critical tones to someone being “all questions”. Me, well, I just love questions — be I on the receiving or giving end of them.
For me to meet somebody for the first time at a social event and not try to figure out who we doubtlessly have in common (this is Ireland, after all), how they know the host/bride/deceased, whether they had far to travel to get to said event, what was the drive down like.... well, that’s just looking a conversational gift horse in the mouth.
Something I saw recently, which perfectly illustrated the demise of small talk, was a blurb on the back of a selfie stick for sale in my local German multiple. “No need to ask a passerby!” the garish box proudly announced. Is that what the world’s come to? Really?! Why wouldn’t you ask a passerby? For fear they’d start asking you if you were here on holiday? Would that be such an inconvenience?
I’ve occasionally heard folks proclaim smugly that they don’t ‘do’ small talk. Which makes me wonder what these people talk about at retirement parties or family gatherings. Pope Francis’s views on annulment? The war in Syria? Ooh, what a lucky, lucky person who gets to sit next to them... There’s nothing quite like a spot of religion or politics in between bites of sausage roll or chicken goujouns. Or, maybe, they just don’t make any effort to converse at all. Well, I’ve got news for you — you’re being fed and watered, the least you could do is conversationally sing for your supper.
At the risk of sounding like a crank, many younger people appear to be so unfamiliar with small talk that they don’t know it when they hear it.
A man recently recounted to me his experience of walking into a particularly empty bar (see, it’s those dastardly German multiples ruining small talk again, but this time with cheap beer...) and remarked, half to himself, half to a woman standing by the counter, on how few customers there were. To which the woman retorted: “I have a boyfriend!”
So, next time you find yourself at a social event that you may not particularly want to attend, just suck it up. Grab the conversational bull by the horns — put your phone away, turn to the person next to you and say hello. The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, once famously remarked that hell is other people. I disagree. Hell is other people with their phones glued to their hands for the evening.
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