Social Chatter — Not Exactly Phatic

If we’re at all self-aware, we’ll gain new insights about our selves throughout our lives. I spent a good two years of deep self-analysis to determine whether I was or wasn’t on the spectrum, so it’s somewhat amazing how much I continue to discover about myself. Phatic communication, for instance. Long before I heard the term, I was aware that I sucked at the short, shallow responses to the short, shallow questions that are a part of being superficially social. It turned out, that like many on the spectrum, I relied (when I could remember them) on scripted resonses. I still stumble and mumble if the right script doesn’t pop into sight.

But it’s the bigger social thing — still mostly superficial, but seemingly a big part of normal life — that I can’t deal with unless it’s with a few people that I know very well, and can share at least a few things with in casual conversation. That insight was nowhere to be seen the day a Very Important meeting was declared for the volunteers of a charity thrift shop where I donated a few hours a week. The store was closed, and meeting time came, but instead of business, everyone was standing around, chatting. And chatting. And chatting.

So what did I do? I told the woman I worked with to give me the highlights of the meeting, and anything important, and went back to work. As it turned out, the meeting wasn’t about anything terribly important, and the necessary information could have been conveyed in less than five minutes. So why all the standing around and chatting? Today, I understand, but back then, I just saw it as a mysterious waste of time that I could be putting to better use. Today, I recognize it as a socially necessary waste of time that could be put to better use, and one that I still avoid.

Just like forum sections that are set aside for conversation about anything but the official purpose of the forum. Social lubrication, a way to avoid getting down to work, an amusing distraction — whatever. I avoid them like the plague.


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