Is small talk losing its meaning?

(Courtesy of Riddhi Jani)

Yes. Yes it is.

You see what I did there? I just cut the small talk out of this editorial. Why beat around the bush when we could get right into the meat and potatoes of the issue here? Small talk is losing its meaning. And for this editorial, I’ll talk about one prime example.

This is a conversation we’ve all heard at least a billion times: “Hey, how are you?” “Good, how are you?” “Good, thanks.” 

Sometimes, most times, maybe all the time, that’s it. 

The world’s greatest resource for academic reliability, aka Wikipedia, states small talk as a “polite conversation about unimportant things.” But wouldn’t it be even more polite to not waste someone’s time talking about things you’re going to forget three seconds later?

If you’re walking by a coworker at the office, do you simply say “Hey” or “Hey, how are you?” To me, it’s the extra question of “How are you?” that has turned almost rhetorical whenever it’s used with a greeting.

The “Hey, how are you?” feels like an obligatory question to ask when greeting someone because we’ve been doing it for decades. Last time I checked, I wasn’t taught this in public school. What they should teach in school is alternative, more open-ended small talk questions that aren’t constricted by societal standards.

Some of my greatest friendships with people include a mutual understanding that there will be no small talk between us. Hell, one of my coworkers even created a friendship constitution (this sounds much weirder than it is) that has a section clearly labeled as “The No Bullshit Pact.” Is it dramatic? Perhaps, but it guarantees every time we talk there will be some meaning behind it — aside from killing time, because even then you can have meaningful small talk.

Maybe that’s what I’m really getting at here. Let’s bring meaning back into small talk. No longer shall we partake in small talk for the sake of partaking in small talk. Use it to learn something about someone. Use it to find common ground with someone. Use it to share a laugh with someone. Hell, use it to platonically flirt with someone for all I care (but be responsible, kids).

At my day job — when I’m not editing at Excalibur — everybody is always doing something, so small talk is almost never meaningful. I’d hear “Hey, how’s it going?” and I’d either respond with, “it’s going” or, “oh you know, living the dream.” In retrospect, maybe I’m the issue here — ironic.

I guess the mundaneness of small talk is a two-way street; it relies on two parties to be equally dull in their own respects. In a way, small talk only remains small if you allow it to, leaving you partially responsible for what comes out of it. So the next time somebody uses the trap phrase “Hey, how’s it going?” try responding with something honest, or hell, even something witty. Anything to escape from the routine of aimless chatter.

About the Author

By Jonathan Q. Hoidn

Former Editor

Jonathan is a Canadian multimedia writer and editor who has a passion for storytelling. Despite his preference for writing poignant and humorous tales, Jonathan loves to challenge himself with new topics, mediums, and perspectives. When Jonathan isn’t editing articles, you can find him tackling his backlog of movies, TV shows, video games, and comics; being the nerd of the group; writing down jokes that come to him in the middle of the night; watching the Raptors game; planning out several screenplay details in the seemingly endless “Story Ideas” folder; staring into the void; walking his dog (which is notably the cutest in town); looking into the camera, breaking the fourth wall; and hunting down that pesky little radioactive spider.


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