One Thousand Words on Technical Advances in Antisocial Behavior

I prefer to avoid conversation.

That makes me sound awful and antisocial. But I’m not awful, really, and only a little bit antisocial. I’m just not very good at small talk. Or at sharing information about myself with others.

Last night, for example, I went out to dinner and ran into someone I used to work with. I like her a lot, but the conversation went something like this.

Her: Hi! How are you?

Me: Good. How are you?

Her: I’m good too. How are things at work?

Me: Great. So how’s your son?

Her, after telling me about her son: So things are going well?

Me: Yep. How’s your husband’s business?

Her, after telling me about her husband: So what’s new?

Me: Oh, not much. How do you like your new job?

You get the idea.

I know the trick to small talk is getting people talking about themselves, but I think I’m rushing the turn around.

I like to avoid small talk with people I don’t know too. Luckily, technology makes it easier than ever to avoid talking to people.

Here’s my list of the best four antisocial inventions of all time.

ATMs and Internet Banking

Before ATMs were on every corner, you used to have to go into the bank to get cash and banks are some of the worst places for small talk.

Not only do you have the tellers, and I think being chatty is a job requirement to be a bank teller, but you usually have to stand in line, which has great potential for small talk. You accidentally make eye contact with someone waiting with you and it’s suddenly “Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it” and “how ‘bout them Red Sox.”

But you don’t have to talk to an ATM. You don’t even have to smile at it. It takes your card and politely gives you money, without a single “Have any good weekend plans?”

And the more recent invention of internet and mobile phone banking means you don’t even have to talk to someone when you have a question about your account.

What’s that mysterious $24 charge? No more “My name is Heather and I have a question about my account. It’s number 876543.” Just a few clicks and you know that $24 was spent at the local bookstore.

Pay at the Pump

When I first started driving, I was scared to pump my own gas. I was always afraid that I would overflow the tank, gas would leak everywhere and it would be a fire hazard.

And I didn’t see the point to pumping it myself when I had to go inside to pay anyway. Gas station attendants aren’t always talkative, but sometimes they fool you. They look all sullen and standoffish but the next thing you know they’re telling about their kids.

But when pay at the pump came along, you could get your gas and not have to talk to anyone at all! It was well worth the extra work of getting out of the car, even in the winter.

Now I find myself resenting it when I can’t pay at the pump.

One of our local stations has a promotion with the grocery store where you get money off gas the more you spend. But nine times out of ten, the grocery store card doesn’t work at the pump so you have to go inside to pay and get the discount.

I find myself passing up the savings to be able to pay at the pump and avoid the cashier.

Self Check Out

We just got a new grocery store and when we did, the old store decided to renovate. So now both the new and the renovated store have self check out and I love it.

I find grocery store cashiers are some of the chattiest people you’ll come across, along with bank tellers and dental hygienists.

I don’t know if it’s because checking out a whole cart full of groceries takes a while, or if they feel like they know you because they see all the food you buy.

The question I get asked most often by grocery store clerks is how many cats I have. They see the cat food and I guess they just have to know.

That’s not so bad, but after I answer, they go on and on about how many cats they have or about their childhood cat.

Don’t they know that cat people aren’t friendly? Dog people are friendly. Cat people, like cats, want to be left alone.

But with self check out, I don’t have to talk about how many cats I have, why I prefer light roast coffee or whether or not my Clorox bleach wipes really kill 99% of germs. I can just buy my groceries in peace.

Customer Service Live Chat

I’m convinced that this is the best invention in history, with the exception of the iPhone.

Just in case you haven’t experienced it yet, live chat allows you to converse with customer services reps through instant message. No phone and no small talk. Just typing.

Today, for instance, I was ordering envelopes on line and trying to match them to a color in an invitation. All the colors had pretty names like sunflower and golden maize, but that didn’t help me. And matching colors on a screen is close to impossible.

I searched the site for the PMS color numbers, but couldn’t find them.

I was about to just give up, when I saw they had live chat.

One click of a button and three sentences later, I had by PMS numbers. I ordered my envelopes and went on with my day.

Could I have called the company and gotten the same information? Yep. But I wouldn’t have.

So call me antisocial if you want. These inventions just go to show that I’m not the only one who will go out of their way to avoid small talk. I’m willing to bet the inventors felt the same way.

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