Thoughts on Social Media and Small Talk.

Again a very interesting podcast episode (again in German, sorry) has left me thinking about the topic of social media’s effects on small talk:

I think everybody who uses Twitter or Facebook recently has experienced a similar situation as the following. Saturday night you go out with your friend and you tell her how your week was.

You say: “Wow … crazy, on Tuesday I have found a 50 Euro bill in the street.”
Your friend: “Yeah I know, I have read it”

Of course she knows the story because you have twittered about it immediately.

In retrospect you might realize that the intention about the 50 Euro story was not to share this experience, but it is rather a tool for the initiation of more profound conversation, hence small talk (this must not be the only intention though, it could also be a tool to strengthen the relationship, but lets stick with the example).

Well, what has happened? You certainly have failed to apply a couple of rules about how communication is done. One is that you have not taken into account who your audience is and from which standpoint this person communicates with you. Maybe you simply forgot about the fact that your friend reads all of your tweets (unlikely, but possible) or you were not sure if your friend has read that specific tweet. In this later case you have failed because you have applied small talk rules from the times before social media.

What you should have really said is:

“Have you read my tweet about the 50 Euro bill?” (Assuming, that your friend is following your social media output)
Your friend says: “Yes, what did you buy from it?”
You say: “We went to the movies, have you seen the film XY yet?” [...]

Since many of the little things that happen to us everyday are already told through social media these stories provide different qualities for small talk. The example above shows that the initial story did not have to be told anymore in order to come to go into more important topics such as your reflections about film XY. The result is that small talk starts at a more profound level and less effort is needed to dig even deeper.

Of course this is just a very specific and reduced example. I will keep an eye on this topic as I remain with many open questions: How is small talk with strangers, or people who are rather far from the core of our social network, changing. Is this development directly or indirectly connected to the fragmentation of public sphere? Could small talk become theoretically unnecessary or is it just happening in a different environment, i. e. social media?

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