Dyed All Hues

Thinker and Experimenter,

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What is the purpose of small talk?

Some people find it useless, but some say small talk is used for gauging trust in strangers.

What is the purpose of small talk?

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    Jun 18 2012: Small talk helps me decide if I want to engage in "big talk." So how's your day going? How about those Dodgers, eh?
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      Jun 19 2012: edward,

      Your subtlety is always funny. I enjoy how you slip in these questions. =P
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    Jun 18 2012: It's just talk, I think that people tend to care less about the words during the 'small talk' and look at/for other characteristics of the person that they are talking to based on which the 'first impression' is formed.
    Or you just find yourself in an awkward position so you don't know what to say :)
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      Jun 19 2012: Ah, the physical cues, gotcha. =)
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        Jun 28 2012: Fairly recent psychological ressearch indicates that students can discern whether they can learn from a prof within milliseconds of seeing him/her for the first time. It is as accurate as end of term evaluations. So, something important is happening within those first moments whenever we meet someone.
  • Jun 24 2012: Sometimes goes by the name of gossip or phatic communication, chewing the fat, you might say.

    Do you remember the Louis Armstrong song, "it's a Wonderful World"? There's a part in there that goes "people saying 'How do you do?' when they really mean 'I love you.'"

    Thus, small talk can be heard as "I'm alive still. How about you?" It's also called ticking over, as in when we listen to a fridge or a really quiet motor or a baby breathing.

    The really funny part is I think this constitutes half or more of language use. Why? I mean what is the motivation? Pure play, to have fun. Actually, there's usually mixed motivations. Kids play with food while they eat it. We prepare a beautiful meal and then eat it. Why does a bird sing? Yes, maybe it's a mating thing, a warning about some danger nearby, or maybe she's singing because she likes to. I even think the play factor is primary.

    It elevates your question. It's one of those human things that computers can't do.
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      Jun 24 2012: Exactly James!

      Computers are interestingand I am envious at their logistics plus those algorithms, but we aren't computers, even though some people are robotic-like....

      Why can't we just say "Hey, I like you, want to date?", but we say "Hi, it has been nice meeting you, see you around." and we think "Hopefully, they want to see me again, and next time I'll ask her out.". I wonder how computers would talk if they had to mate?

      Gossip is difficult for me to call because gossip is generally talk about basic people superficial topics about physical features and their history of rumors. I am hoping that small talk can be productive, but generally I feel that it is usually gossipy.
  • Jul 2 2012: I used to think it was useless.
    Now I wonder if it can contain an unconscious measurement of one's mental balance - ("can a person switch from topic-to-topic without throwing up defenses or spilling one's guts?") Maybe.
    Maybe those mid-topic silences among talkers serve a similar purpose - can there be a period of relaxing without wondering if the other person is planning something disastrous; or do they have to throw in another conversation too quickly in order to dispel that loud silence?
  • Jul 2 2012: Perhaps gradually forming or maintaining relationships. It is intended to open communication in a pleasant non-direct way, perhaps assuming that more important conversational topics will follow if the conversation pump is primed with a few social pleasantries.
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    Jun 28 2012: I think the purpose is to find common ground among people. If we find a little agreement we can move on to more sensitive topics. If we find none we move to another topic in search of us. I always remember that in the first few seconds of any converstations both brains are only asking one question: Like me or not like me?