’Bye small talk, we’ll always have Paris
Well, it's official -- the Digital Age has killed the art of small talk. Time of death: 8:45 p.m. last Friday.
Take it from me. I was there. I witnessed the whole thing. But, as with any murder mystery, let me first set up the backstory.
Long ago in the 20th century, small talk was like a core-curriculum English class. We all worked from the same "required reading list." The daily paper. The network news. If a tiny monkey peed on Johnny Carson's head on "The Tonight Show," every butcher, baker and candlestick maker could pass a quiz about it the next day.
By contrast, the 21st century offers almost nothing but independent studies. From TiVo to podcasts to the Internet, you can pick your subject, pore over it, and only it, as long as you want.
You go major in '80s Norwegian pop bands 24/7, while I'm over here scanning YouTube for clips of "Family Guy."
But if we're ever in the same room, we'll be staring-at-the-floor bored because our interests never intersect (unless I remember that scene in Episode 9 of Season 4 where the lead singer for a-ha pulls Chris into his "Take On Me" video).
I was gazing at just such a floor Friday when my wife took me to an event where she knew everyone, I knew no one, and everyone seemed OK with that.
In each corner, I was greeted with some version of, "It's so nice to finally meet you, 'Mr. Homebody.' What finally got you out of the house?" After a few of those, I quickly assembled what I thought was a clever reply.
"Well," I said, "I just heard Scooter Libby's going to jail, so I figured the streets would finally be safe again at night."
Silence. Deafening silence. You'd need ear plugs for this kind of silence.
Obviously, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, recently found guilty in a case about the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's secret identity, was not on her "required reading list." Either that or I was talking to Valerie Plame and she wasn't amused -- but I think her name was Sally (or was it?).
Seconds later, my wife pulled me aside and said, "Stop acting weird."
Fortunately, I came to the party equipped with a Web-enabled smart phone and a weak bladder, so I went to the bathroom to do some necessary recalibrations. Turns out, Scooter Libby has 1.8 million search results on Google. Sounds good. But by comparison, Paris Hilton has 93.4 million.
I went back in to try again.
"Hello, stranger," another actual stranger said, "how did your wife manage to drag you out of the house?"
"Well," I said, "I just heard Paris Hilton was back in jail, so I figured the streets would finally be safe again at night."
Wild laughter spat out of her. She repeated what I said. Others re-repeated it. It was the only thing everyone in the room heard all night. Even my wife sported a smile of vindication.
Unfortunately, by 8:45 p.m., I was all out of general-interest material, which in the Digital Age is now solely Paris Hilton. So, if you want small talk, don't go looking for it at dinner parties.
But you might try CNN.