We all have that one friend, coworker, or family member that gossips incessantly about the dumbest things. Did you hear what you Aunt Carol said? Did you see what Kim Kardashian wore? Did you watch the latest episode of The Bachelor?
It’s like a disease where they cannot stop talking. Despite, the “no, I haven’t,” and “no, I’m not interested,” the explicit details are recited like a child discussing their love of trucks.
There’s a quote that goes something like this: great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
The older I get, the more I see people moving towards the “small mind” behavior and away from discussing meaningful and world-shifting ideas. We go to work and discuss Donald Trump’s latest tweet with a co-worker. When we get home from work, we tell our honey about our asshole boss and his latest rant. We log onto social media and post adorable pictures of our children and our pets, paired with the perfect caption. Then, we call our mother to tell her what her sister posted online. And the same pattern repeats, day after day.
“Men and women range themselves into three classes or orders of intelligence; you can tell the lowest class by their habit of always talking about persons; the next by the fact that their habit is always to converse about things; the highest by their preference for the discussion of ideas.” — Henry Thomas Buckle
I’ve often wondered what led to this decline in deep thinking, and why it is that people often choose to discuss the mundane rather than delve into life’s biggest and most challenging questions. I have come to believe that the increased small talk stems from a combination of Orwellian distraction and a growing addiction to digital dopamine hits.
The internet, televisions, and phones create an environment in which we are constantly caught in a flurry of notifications–a continual influx of instant gratification that keeps us hooked on all those micro-interactions. Rather than reading long-form articles and engaging in deep discussion, the majority of people forgo the potential for long-term growth in favor of likes, comments, and laughs. And there is no escaping this distraction without the very intentional decision to do so.
I personally deleted my social media account because, despite my limited use, I felt susceptible to the endless scrolling, liking, and hoping that someone else would comment on one of my posts. When I recognized the psychology behind those feelings, I felt manipulated and upset. I was habitually making the decision to hop into the toxic pond, and I had to make the decision to wade back out and vow not to return.
Social media can be as much as a tool as a detriment, so it’s up to each individual to use their best discretion. It’s been over four months since I left Facebook for good, after five years of slowly wading out. Though it’s been a very isolated time, I feel more connected than I ever did on Facebook. Podcasts are more engaging, the characters in books are more lively, and my elderly neighbors are becoming dear friends.
By stripping away the avenue of superficiality, I’ve been forced to work harder and listen more intently to find connections–with other people and between disparate ideas.
“Great ideas alter the power balance in relationships. That’s why great ideas are initially resisted. Good ideas come with a heavy burden. Which is why so few people have them. So few people can handle it.” — Hugh Macleod
During my childhood, I typically preferred listening to the adult conversations over playing with my cousins. The trend continued into my teens and early twenties, where over half of my friends were twice my age. In high school, I would spend lunch with my English professor discussing Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Frankenstein. In my early twenties, I hung out with a troop of middle-aged entrepreneurs and talk about how each of us could leverage our unique skills to change the world.
Perhaps the reason that conversations with people my own age has always been such a challenge is that these young people have not yet moved through their resistance to a place where they can confront new ideas, especially those which conflict with their existing beliefs. In my limited exposure to children and adolescents, I’m worried that trend is only worsening across time. If an eight-year-old isn’t interested in reading and a fourteen-year-old expects all the answers to be given to him, who is going to wield the education, insight, and wisdom necessary to lead the next great social revolution?
As much as I worry, I am hopeful. My family’s former neighbors have a five-year-old son who is enthralled by learning, adventuring, and discussion his future as an ophthalmologist. That young boy reminds me that each generation is filled with thinkers, doers, and squatters. Some people will bring about world-changing innovations, others will work diligently to support another’s vision of a better future, and many will do the bare minimum necessary to get by.
Though we all may, at times, be tempted to partake in the latest gossip, I aim to personally strive to join that small group of individuals who discuss ideas and find new ways to draw others into the conversation with open minds and open hearts.