Since moving, I’ve found myself in many new situations. I’ve interviewed for jobs, interviewed for volunteer work, and gone to events and meetings where I’ve met plenty of new people. One thing I’ve noticed is [what I believe is] a change in the way people speak with each other.
To me, it seems that small talk is more difficult. By small talk, I mean the casual chit chat that we make at cocktail parties and other social situations. With people using phones to communicate with people in other locations, we don’t chat as much with those nearby. It’s easier to text a friend and avoid eye contact than it is to make ourselves speak with a stranger. That leaves us out of practice, so when we have no choice but to speak with the person in front of us, the skill is pretty rusty.
I also think that texting and tweeting have changed the way we talk when we do speak with strangers, our conversations are stilted. While there is a lot to say in support of brevity (see what I did there?!), I feel like something is lost when we truncate our speech. It makes us more guarded, less open to getting to know strangers and, subsequently, less likely to learn and grow through communication with fellow humans. It also makes it more difficult to really understand each other.
I know, I know…I sound like an old lady. “Those dang cellular devices, with the tweetin’ and the textin’ and the sextin’….” But in the last few days I’ve had awkward encounters with a number of people of various ages.
In one conversation, a woman grew visibly restless when I spoke more than one sentence at a time. She looked eager to cut me off, only to reply to me with a short response of a few words. I quickly felt uncomfortable, like the old lady who rambles while the young person rolls their eyes at how slow and boring they are. But she’d asked me a question, and I really didn’t think I could explain the answer in just 140 characters. My replies weren’t that long, but soon they were incredibly short and also inadequate.
One could say that if she didn’t want to hear the entire answer, then I shouldn’t worry that she didn’t get the correct one. That’s her loss. But it also made me wonder what I was losing in the exchange. Her short answers (not curt–she was quite pleasant) forced me to ask more questions in order to get what I needed from her. But because I was already uncomfortable from her body language in the beginning, I was afraid to continue asking my questions for fear of being difficult or slow.
These exchanged also left me wondering if the person really wanted to be there. In most of the situations, the other person initiated the conversation (after I contacted them online about volunteering, meeting up, applying for a job). But when they only spoke in text-length sentences, I wondered if they were truly invested in the exchange. If they were bored or uninterested, I didn’t want to prolong the meeting and waste everyone’s time. However, what if they were only speaking in the new norm? Should I adjust my conversation to mimic their manner of speech? It was incredibly uncomfortable and frustration, not knowing if I needed to learn the new manner of conversation or if it was a signal that the other party was done with the interaction.
Have you noticed this change in speech? Or is it just a new manifestation of my anxiety when meeting new people?