“The Finnish don’t believe in talking bullshit.”
—Laura Studarus. “How the Finnish Survive Without Small Talk.” BBC.com. October 17, 2018.
Small talk is a social lubricant. It creates openings, fills in gaps in conversation, and eases partings. In environments with complex social networks that extend past our Dunbar numbers, social anxiety is a natural byproduct of the environment. Small talk eases this anxiety.
Gossip also has these features. It can be useful in communicating social standing in a group. It’s how reputations are made. But, it is can also be damaging if it becomes the focus of interaction, where what others think and will say about us within a group polices group behavior, leading to inauthentic lives.
Small talk has a similar problem. Sure, it can signal social connection and paper over awkward moments. But, it can also become a crutch that we rely on so much that we do it instead of making any kind of meaningful connection with others, which can easily heighten our feelings of social anxiety and disconnection.