Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: Casual, Shallow and Meaningless

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  • Amy Gale, in reply to Sacha,

    I rather like “what have you been reading lately?"

    Does that work on many young people?

    Yes, it does. We’re not going to get all tedious and cliched about illiterate yoofs are we?

    Mostly it’s even paper books, not that there’s anything wrong with electronic ones. There’s also nothing intrinsically wrong with magazines, or with texts that haven’t gone through the traditional publication process at all.

    Which reminds me, pro tip on the ‘what have you been reading’ gambit: make sure you have some way of noting anything that sounds interesting. Notebook, txt to self, whatever works.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Amy Gale,

    cliched about illiterate yoofs

    not illiterate, disinterested - like this.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Sacha,

    That’s just the kind of article I was thinking about when I mentioned cliches. It takes some trends that might – might – be significant, but instead of examining them with any kind of rigor and telling us something worth knowing, it keeps throwing out numbers and hoping something sticks.

    Let’s just have a look at a couple of these.

    "The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004."

    In less OMG CIVILIZATION IZ IN DECLINE terms: 81% of 17 year olds – a clear majority – read for pleasure at least some of the time. If you stop a random 17 year old on the street, your odds of getting a non-reader are low.

    Does the decline need addressing? Absolutely, if it exists. But why look at tiresome things like error margin and long term trends when there are more numbers to list?


    "Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure."

    I see what they did there with the complete change of domain. I guess it just doesn’t count if you’re reading The New Yorker, or Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, or a self-published short story you bought off some guy on the subway?


    "almost 40 percent of college freshmen (and 35 percent of seniors) read nothing at all for pleasure, and 26 percent (28 percent of seniors) read less than one hour per week"

    Kids reading a whole lot for school have no time left in the day to read anything else? Astounding. Can’t wait for the next journalistic insight into the world of undergraduates. “They like beer”, perhaps.


    "The report notes that average annual household spending on books, adjusted for inflation, dropped 14 percent between 1985 and 2005, and that consumer book sales declined 6 percent from 2000 to 2006."

    Again, potentially interesting but currently useless.

    - Are they talking about adjustment with respect to some index on the price of books specifically, or on the overall “value” of a dollar? Many of us are getting a great deal more book for our relative buck than we were in 1985.

    - Do these numbers take the secondhand book market into account (bet they don’t)?

    - Is library usage declining as well, or is it growing as people who don’t buy resort to borrowing instead? We don’t even get spurious numbers on this one, just a bit of anecdata from CT.


    And then they are shocked, shocked, that people don’t read the newspaper as much as they used to. FFS.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Amy Gale,

    Feel free to back up your characterisation that this is about "illiteracy".

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Sacha,

    I can't decide whether my lack of interest in doing anything of the sort is because I never made a characterization or because I don't answer to you.

    Oh, well, same result either way.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Amy Gale,

    You said this was about literacy. Bad faith is unappealing.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Yeah. I have kids. My kids have friends. Some of them are big readers. And some of them aren't. Just like when we were kids. What they do appear to do is write more than we did. I''m just not sure what the point of this argument is.

    So. Saturday night we went to a social gathering: a family birthday for my best friend and her parents. I hear the "oh jesus, parental friends", but it was a lot like hanging out with my own mother's friends. But you're still trying to make conversation with people in their seventies quite a bit. I'd probably made a minor faux pax by choosing a dress that showed all my tattoos. Though at least now I'm "the one covered in tattoos" and not "Susan's friend, the loud drunk one".

    But as I walked around with my beloved Susan, I got to hear, dozens of times, the Family Friend Small Talk with her. And it was identical. You didn't sing again! (Um, no, she sang once, she sings professionally, this is HER birthday.) You've lost so much weight, you look fabulous! (Um, thanks, what are you implying?) I hear you have a new sports car haha midlife crisis joke, and OMG those shoes! (Actually, the shoes were pretty damn impressive.)

    Me? End of the evening I got bailed up by Susan's cousin's wife and spent about half an hour explaining BDSM.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I'm just not sure what the point of this argument is.

    I have yet to meet a young person who describes their use of Facebook as "reading". That's all. It is more interactive and social - more like a book club than a book, as it were.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Sacha,

    You said this was about literacy. Bad faith is unappealing.

    Oh, for Pete's sake.

    1) I asked if this was about literacy.

    2) The linked article does in fact make literal reference to literacy in several places, as well as mentioning various issues that fall under that umbrella or are closely related.

    But seriously? You seem to have a weird obsession with jumping on everything I say without any actual reference to the content. It's creepy and me and my greasemonkey are done with it. Feel free to have the last word. I won't even know.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Me? End of the evening I got bailed up by Susan’s cousin’s wife and spent about half an hour explaining BDSM.

    So you're good for something then? ;)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Amy Gale,

    You seem to have a weird obsession with jumping on everything I say without any actual reference to the content.

    Eh?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Amy Gale,

    But seriously? You seem to have a weird obsession with jumping on everything I say without any actual reference to the content.

    He does that a lot, I read it on Facebook. ;-)
    Oh, and Sacha, I was reading the phone book the other day and you weren’t in it.
    Terrible plot by the way and who the F**k is Zylstra?.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Amy Gale,

    If you stop a random 17 year old on the street, your odds of getting a non-reader are low.

    Thank you. Good point.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Terrible plot by the way and who the F**k is Zylstra?.

    Tell me you didn't just give away the ending.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Amy Gale,

    Tell me you didn’t just give away the ending.

    OOps, sorry. I don't know how far you've got yet but I must say I was rather disappointed to see Ivan Itchyanus has been written out of the story.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    So you're good for something then? ;)

    Yeah, we refer to that one as "the other thing".

    What I do enjoy is conversation that is neither formulaic niceties nor serious discourse, but that for want of a better word I'll call "banter". It's a mixture of puns, flirtation, double entendres, gossip, anecdotes, kvetching, ranting, playful jibes and general silliness, with the occasional seasoning of more serious content. It generally
    only applies between good friends and established drinking buddies (yes, drinking helps), but if you meet someone who sparks into your conversation straight away then they'll probably fall into one of those two categories before long.

    I've been pondering this, and why I'm pretty sure that, while I suck at small talk, I feel I'm pretty good at this. I don't think it's just the alcohol. And it's why I so enjoy PA gatherings, too, because I'll be able to find some of this.

    There is a shifting line of appropriateness with Gay Badinage. There is a degree to which you have to know me before it's okay to make that crack about my arse, and it's dependent on just how funny the remark was. And yet it's something I don't see people screw up in person very often.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4644 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Amy Gale,

    Tell me you didn't just give away the ending.

    LOL!

    I'll confess to not reading so much for pleasure. So it's not a great opener for me.

    But it doesn't matter squat, really, that's what small-talk haters don't get. You could have said "blardy bloop?" and I'd have got most of the useful information before the end of the utterance. You'd have made eye contact, smiled, nodded, waited for a pause, squared up, said your thing, and waited. 90% of the casual information required has already been passed at this point. I'll have worked out that you wanted to casually talk to me, that you were friendly, polite, and wanted me to do my little bit now, whatever it is.

    Or not, on any of those points. All of them are quite vital to my response. If you don't want to talk to me, I'll pick it up from the tone, rather than the words. If you really want to, likewise. Actually, quite a lot of it would have happened before this point anyway, most likely we'd have spotted each other, possibly had a name exchange, smelled the person, felt their handshake, and our subconsciouses would have delivered a visceral decision quite quickly. Most of the impressions have already been made, but there is a window to change this, if the information was not actually right, and you care. The distraction could have been genuine, rather than disinterest. The shifty gaze could be cultural. Perhaps they are simply nervous because they have forgotten your name (in which case "Hi, I'm X" is a good opener).

    It's worth remembering that this information is possibly the most important that will pass between most people in a gathering. Why carry on, if you just don't like someone? Do they have an attraction? Are they actually angry or threatening? Do they want something, and are you prepared to give it? Are they busy already, with some flirtation, or a deep conversation? Do they know who you are? Do you know who they are? Should you know, if you don't? Should they? What mood are they in? Can they speak your language? Are they well? Or sick, and perhaps best kept at a healthy distance? Do they have responsibilities, like children or serving the party, which could be distractions?

    The idea that my position on global warming is more important than these things is false. You'll never get to that if I just think you're an arrogant cock right from the get-go because your approach is all wrong. Or if you can't bear to even approach me.

    Sure, it could be a matter of personal style that you just can't bear to do these things. If so, it's a bit of a cross to bear, because it limits your ability to interact with thousands of people who could actually be right up your alley.

    I personally don't much enjoy it, because I'm not actually particularly sociable. I'd rather have one good conversation in an evening than 25 shallow ones. However, I need to get through some fraction of those 25 before I can even choose which conversation I want to immerse into. Just because I happen to be standing next to someone who wants to have a deep conversation doesn't mean I want to have a deep conversation with them. What if it's about something incredibly boring, or worse, offensive?* What if there's 3 other people who I'd rather be talking to, but I can't get to them?

    That is what small talk is for. To find who you want to have the big talk with.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10596 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    Do they know who you are? Do you know who they are?

    Do they know who they are?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19573 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    Do they know who they are?

    VERY important question.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10596 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to BenWilson,

    That is what small talk is for.
    To find who you want to have the big talk with.

    Aaah! Speed data...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7776 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I've been pondering this, and why I'm pretty sure that, while I suck at small talk, I feel I'm pretty good at this. I don't think it's just the alcohol. And it's why I so enjoy PA gatherings, too, because I'll be able to find some of this.

    They're pretty amazing. It's quite something to be able to skip small talk because you meet people who have deeply shared experience, despite possibly having never actually met. Never had anything like it before.

    Mind you, even at Great Blends, you don't know most of the people, until you know them.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10596 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to BenWilson,

    Mind you, even at Great Blends, you don’t know most of the people, until you know them.

    You get those who remember bits from online and as the group moves around each other ,one can cross paths by intros. I tend to go, peeps I do know first then anyone else who bothers to communicate. I'm a bit of a pig like that :)
    I'm always happy to meet others and sometimes my chats are really short because my memory is. I'm missing a bit in the brain. My concentration is real bad because I cannot remember. It is not disinterest, it is, can't remember. And I'm loud because my hearing in one ear was paralysed along with everything else. but very happy to meet PAS peeps.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard, in reply to Amy Gale,

    Does that work on many young people?

    On the ones worth talking to, it does.

    Which sounds very snobbish, even for me, but even if I'm not expecting a conversation about literary criticism, I find that the people with whom I'm most likely to have engaging conversations would be able to respond to that question with something other than a blank stare.

    It might have something to do with the fact that my imagination is primarily linguistic, whereas others' are sometimes visual or musical, and that I'm more likely to make connections (in form and content) with people who read and/or write fiction, poetry, philosophy, politics, history and the like than with those who don't. Even with those whose creative interests lie elsewhere, text is so ubiquitous a medium that for most people the question could lead onto a discussion of their interests: "I've just read a review of Pina, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it", "Have you seen Q's best band awards? What a bunch of out-of-touch old farts!", "I've just found this wonderful collection of old maps".

    Of course, reading "books" is no guarantee of a good conversation, but that makes the question useful as a test. If one's interlocutor responds with a panegyric to Dan Brown, Ken Ring or Ayn Rand, it's a good opportunity to remember an urgent appointment elsewhere.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1040 posts Report Reply

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