So there’s something I’ve been noticing amongst the legions of internet age cynicism. The perception of small-talk as something that’s not only meaningless but also a manifestation of superficiality rampant in modern society. This attitude’s growth is closely linked to the ever-growing popularity of the introvert personality type-trait, which has become an all encompassing identifying point for some- leading them to hate on others for talking about the weather and what-not. This hatred is created through an ‘Us Vs. Them’ paradigm enforced in the tone of many of the articles on this subject.
In such articles it’s as though extraverts are a whole different class of people who don’t crave meaning in their lives, who don’t feel the need for powerful human connection and whose level of processing power is limited to realising that Dunkaroos are kangaroos that you dunk. Additionally, everything comes easy to extraverts, they probably were the popular kids in high-school, who bullied and listened to ‘silly pop music’ that ‘doesn’t mean anything’ whilst introverts are cursed with a search for meaning in life that can’t possibly be filled by the humdrum of the superficial world.
Firstly, I’d like to call some bullshit on this hella simplistic way of viewing personality theory. There are several ways of viewing the introversion/extraversion dynamic. Raymond Cattel’s 16 personal factor theory use it as a grouping variable for other qualitative data, the Big-Five personality traits use extraversion as a scale of low-high and the original usage by Carl Jung has extraversion as an outgoing personality trait. The only major theories which get close to setting up an extraversion-introversion binary are Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Hans Eyesenck’s model of personality. Eyesenck however uses the trait as a cognitive measure, using the two terms (Extraversion and Neurotocism) to highlight differences in cognitive processes whilst the Myer’s- Brigg’s paradigm seems to extend upon a difference between attitudes and energy. Basically, there are a lot of scientific ways to think about introversion and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we remove the complexity and history of personality theory in favour of having a personality trait that sets up barriers between people.
Secondly, I just wanna throw some love out there for small talk which I believe has come under unfair scrutiny as being “fake and meaningless”. Now I don’t like small-talk because it’s particularly exciting (which it isn’t) or because it’s an important staple of a communicative society (which it is), I like small talk because I think it’s kinda beautiful.
In many ways I could be easily classified as an introvert, I am at least on the introversion side of the spectrum based off of heaps of the online quizzes readily available to those wishing to hear who they are. Additionally, there are many other ways I can be aligned with the popular definition of introversion. I get tired when I talk to people too much, I’m too afraid to ask for straws at cafe’s in case they yell at me for not drinking my milkshake straight from the glass like a real man and I genuinely prefer staying inside watching some lame cartoons as opposed to going outside to clubs, bars and wherever else my fellow millennials are hanging out these days. Talking to people about most things is really difficult – y’know what’s really easy though? Talking about how bright that sun has gotten, about how cool that dog looks and how good the day has been (even if it hasn’t been). It’s easy because it’s never going to get too intense, and there are many social schemas in place that are quite simple to follow, meaning that each time I engage in small-talk I can be assured that it’s a social interaction that I will not screw up.
Being good at small talk and enjoying small talk are positively correlated, which is why I encourage everyone who finds it tiresome or boring to maybe work on it or see it as a necessary skill rather than a needless intermission in their busy lives. However, there is a difference between being good at these conversations and genuinely getting a kick out of them. My personal enjoyment for small-talk stems from a conflicted desire to relate and connect with others but an inability to do so. I kinda have a lot of love to give, I wanna tell everyone I see that I think that they’re the best and I hope they can reach their full potential as human beings. I can’t actually do that though, it’s both outside my capabilities as a communicator and it’s kinda weird to say those kinds of things to strangers. I’d love to immediately dive into deep and meaningful conversations with people where we discuss all things that matter, but first I’d like to feel comfortable around people and small-talk is the necessary step we take towards those conversations which change lives and cement relationships.
Small-talk connects people in ways that I don’t believe are honoured enough. We struggle through life, we trudge through the days trying to sort out our own problems whilst also trying to make the world a better place. We rarely get release or validation for our own experience because it’s often hard to relate with others who either you don’t trust enough or who won’t understand. Everyone relates to the weather though, the business of the day, the traffic, or a movie that’s out in cinemas. Small-talk is the great equaliser, it grounds you and reminds you that you have common ground with your fellow community, it’s a great way to develop conversational skills and it’s the magical chance to relate to someone else no matter how different they are to you. Passing it off as superficial or something that introverts can’t possibly stoop to is neglecting both why it’s necessary in society and how it connects people who would otherwise remain separated.