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robertogreco : smalltalk   10

My Struggle with American Small Talk - The New Yorker
"“How’s it going?” I ask the barista. “How’s your day been?”

“Ah, not too busy. What are you up to?”

“Not much. Just reading.”

This, I have learned, is one of the key rituals of American life. It has taken me only a decade to master.

I immigrated to the United States in 2001, for college. I brought only my Indian experience in dealing with shopkeepers and tea sellers. In Delhi, where I grew up, commerce is brusque. You don’t ask each other how your day has been. You might not even smile. I’m not saying this is ideal—it’s how it is. You’re tied together by a transaction. The customer doesn’t tremble before complaining about how cold his food is. Each side believes the other will cheat him, and each remains alert. Tips are not required.

“God, Mahajan, you’re so rude to waiters!” Tom, an American friend, said, laughing, after he watched me ordering food at a restaurant, in the West Village, years ago. Considering myself a mild and friendly person, I was surprised. “You’re ingratiating!” I countered. Tom always asked servers how they were doing or complimented their shirts or cracked jokes about the menu. At the time, this seemed intellectually dishonest to me. Did he really care what they were wearing? Wasn’t he just expressing his discomfort about being richer than the person serving him? If you did this little number with everyone, was it genuine?

American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies. This makes it a land of small talk. Two people greet each other happily, with friendliness, but might know each other for years before venturing basic questions about each other’s backgrounds. The opposite is true of Indians. At least three people I’ve sat next to on planes to and from India have asked me, within minutes, how much I earn as a writer (only to turn away in disappointment when I tell them). In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.

So, for years in America, I would shudder when reporting to the front lines to order coffee. It felt like a performance. I had a thick accent and people didn’t understand me and I was ashamed and I fumbled. I radiated an uncertain energy; sometimes baristas sensed this and wouldn’t try to talk to me, and then an insecure voice in my head would cry, “He’s racist!”

During these years in the small-talk wilderness, I also wondered why Americans valued friendliness with commerce so much. Was handing over cash the sacred rite of American capitalism—and of American life? On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed. It’s my main form of social interaction—as it is for millions of Americans who live alone or away from their families.

Everything is subject to analysis until it becomes second nature to you. Living in Brooklyn and then in Austin, Texas, I made coffee shops the loci of my movements. Meeting the same baristas day after day bred context, and I got practice. People no longer heard my name as “Kevin” or “Carmen,” though they still misheard “to go” as “to stay” and vice versa. I was beginning to assimilate. It felt good and didn’t seem fake anymore.

Still, sometimes, when I make small talk at cash registers, I am reminded of a passage from a novel called “The Inscrutable Americans,” which was popular in India in the nineteen-nineties. In the opening of the book, the scion of a hair-oil empire, Gopal, comes to the U.S. for college. When an immigration agent at J.F.K. asks, “How is it going?” Gopal replies the only way he knows:
I am telling him fully and frankly about all problems and hopes, even though you may feel that as American he may be too selfish to bother about decline in price of hair oil in Jajau town. But, brother, he is listening very quietly with eyes on me for ten minutes and then we are having friendly talk about nuts and he is wanting me to go.
"
communication  culture  smalltalk  2016  karanmahajan  commerce  capitalism  india  performance  society  customs  friendliness  honesty  intimacy  friendship 
july 2016 by robertogreco
The Sixth Stage of Grief is Retro-Computing — The Message — Medium
"Imagine having, in your confused adolescence, the friendship of an older, avuncular man who is into computers, a world-traveling photographer who would occasionally head out to, like, videotape the Dalai Lama for a few weeks, then come back and and listen to every word you said while you sat on his porch. A generous, kind person who spoke openly about love and faith and treated people with respect."



"A year after the Amiga showed up—I was 13—my life started to go backwards. Not forever, just for a while. My dad left, money was tight. My clothes were the ones my dad left behind, old blouse-like Oxfords in the days of Hobie Cat surfwear. I was already big and weird, and now I was something else. I think my slide perplexed my peers; if anything they bullied me less. I heard them murmuring as I wandered down the hall.

I was a ghost and I had haunts: I vanished into the computer. I had that box of BBS floppies. One after another I’d insert them into the computer and examine every file, thousands of files all told. That was how I pieced together the world. Second-hand books and BBS disks and trips to the library. I felt very alone but I’ve since learned that it was a normal American childhood, one millions of people experienced.

Often—how often I don’t remember—I’d go over to Tom’s. I’d share my techniques for rotating text in Deluxe Paint, show him what I’d gleaned from my disks. He always had a few spare computers around for generating title sequences in videos, and later for editing, and he’d let me practice with his videocameras. And he would listen to me.

Like I said: Avuncular. He wasn’t a father figure. Or a mother figure. He was just a kind ear when I needed as many kind ears as I could find. I don’t remember what I said; I just remember being heard. That’s the secret to building a network. People want to be heard. God, life, history, science, books, computers. The regular conversations of anxious kids. His students would show up, impossibly sophisticated 19-year-old men and women, and I’d listen to them talk as the sun went down. For years. A world passed over that porch and I got to watch and participate even though I was still a boy.

I constantly apologized for being there, for being so young and probably annoying, and people would just laugh at me. But no one put me in my place. People touched me, hugged me, told me about books to read and movies to watch. I was not a ghost.

When I graduated from high school I went by to sit on the porch and Tom gave me a little brown teddy bear. You need to remember, he said, to be a kid. To stay in touch with that part of yourself.

I did not do this."



"Technology is What We Share

Technology is what we share. I don’t mean “we share the experience of technology.” I mean: By my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. Strategies. Ideas for living our lives. We do it all the time. Parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. Quotes from the Dalai Lama. We talk neckties, etiquette, and Minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. A tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. We are good at it. It’s so simple as to be invisible. Can I borrow your scissors? Do you want tickets? I know guacamole is extra. The world of technology isn’t separate from regular life. It’s made to seem that way because of, well…capitalism. Tribal dynamics. Territoriality. Because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. So it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. A product.

I went looking for the teddy bear that Tom had given me, the reminder to be a child sometimes, and found it atop a bookshelf. When I pulled it down I was surprised to find that it was in a tiny diaper.

I stood there, ridiculous, a 40-year-old man with a diapered 22-year-old teddy bear in my hand. It stared back at me with root-beer eyes.

This is what I remembered right then: That before my wife got pregnant we had been trying for kids for years without success. We had considered giving up.

That was when I said to my wife: If we do not have children, we will move somewhere where there is a porch. The children who need love will find the porch. They will know how to find it. We will be as much parents as we want to be.

And when she got pregnant with twins we needed the right-sized doll to rehearse diapering. I went and found that bear in an old box.

I was handed that toy, sitting on Tom’s porch, in 1992. A person offering another person a piece of advice. Life passed through that object as well, through the teddy bear as much as through the operating systems of yore.

Now that I have children I can see how tuned they are to the world. Living crystals tuned to all manner of frequencies. And how urgently they need to be heard. They look up and they say, look at me. And I put my phone away.

And when they go to bed, protesting and screaming, I go to mess with my computers, my old weird imaginary emulated computers. System after system. I open up these time capsules and look at the thousands of old applications, millions of dollars of software, but now it can be downloaded in a few minutes and takes up a tiny portion of a hard drive. It’s all comically antiquated.

When you read histories of technology, whether of successes or failures, you sense the yearning of people who want to get back into those rooms for a minute, back to solving the old problems. How should a window open? How should the mouse look? What will people want to do, when we give them these machines? Who wouldn’t want to go back 20 years—to drive again into the office, to sit before the whiteboard in a beanbag chair, in a place of warmth and clarity, and give it another try?

Such a strange way to say goodbye. So here I am. Imaginary disks whirring and screens blinking as I visit my old haunts. Wandering through lost computer worlds for an hour or two, taking screenshots like a tourist. Shutting one virtual machine down with a sigh, then starting up another one. But while these machines run, I am a kid. A boy on a porch, back among his friends."
paulford  memory  memories  childhood  neoteny  play  wonder  sharing  obituaries  technology  history  sqeak  amiga  textcraft  plan9  smalltalk-80  smalltalk  mac  1980s  1990s  1970s  xerox  xeroxalto  texteditors  wordprocessors  software  emulators  emulations  2014  computers  computing  adolescence  listening  parenting  adults  children  mentors  macwrite  howwelearn  relationships  canon  caring  love  amigaworkbench  commodore  aegisanimator  jimkent  vic-20  commodore64  1985  andywarhol  debbieharry  1987  networks  porches  kindness  humility  lisp  windows3.1  microsoft  microsoftpaint  capitalism  next  openstep  1997  1992  stevejobs  objectivec  belllabs  xeroxparc  inria  doom  macos9  interfacebuilder 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations — Psychological Science
"Is the happy life characterized by shallow, happy-go-lucky moments and trivial small talk, or by reflection and profound social encounters? Both notions—the happy ignoramus and the fulfilled deep thinker—exist, but little is known about which interaction style is actually associated with greater happiness (King & Napa, 1998). In this article, we report findings from a naturalistic observation study that investigated whether happy and unhappy people differ in the amount of small talk and substantive conversations they have."
conversation  happiness  psychology  smalltalk  well-being  substance  research 
march 2010 by robertogreco
Viewpoints Research Institute
"Viewpoints Research Institute (VRI) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit organization incorporated in 2001 to improve "powerful ideas education" for the world's children and to advance the state of systems research and personal computing. ... We want to help children develop real fluency in many important areas of learning, including thinking, math and science. Each of these subjects is outside "natural learning" (such as learning to walk and talk). Quite a bit of time and energy needs to be spent to gain an above threshold fluency. There are interesting similarities to art, music, and sports, each of which also requires quite a bit of time and energy to gain fluency. These arts could be termed "hard fun". Mathematicians and scientists know they are doing art and hard fun as well. "Thinking" is a higher category than "just" math, science, and the arts. It represents a synthesis of intuitive and analytical approaches to understanding the world and dealing with it."
education  programming  squeak  learning  software  research  tcsnmy  math  science  smalltalk 
january 2010 by robertogreco
Small talk (phatic communication) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Small talk is conversation for its own sake, or "…comments on what is perfectly obvious." It is an informal type of discourse that does not cover any functional topics of conversation or any transactions that need to be addressed. The phenomenon of small talk was initially studied in 1923 by Bronisław Malinowski, who coined the term phatic communion to describe it. The ability to conduct small talk is a social skill."

[Referenced here: http://plsj.tumblr.com/post/331838144/criticising-the-banality-of-facebook regarding: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jan/05/social-media-cory-doctorow ]
corydoctorow  cv  communication  phaticcommunication  phatic  smalltalk  socialskills  etiquette  informal  informality  conversation 
january 2010 by robertogreco
SOPHIE:
"Sophie 2.0 is open source software for writing, reading and visualizing rich media documents in an interactive, networked environment. The program emerged from the desire to create an easy-to-use application that would allow authors to combine text, images, video, and sound quickly and simply, but with precision and sophistication. Sophie's users are interested in creating robust, elegant, networked, texts and multimedia works without having programming knowledge or training in the use of more complex and costly tools. such as Flash."
education  opensource  squeak  smalltalk  application  publishing  authoring  media  multimedia  writing  tools  collaboration  free  software  books  ebooks 
september 2009 by robertogreco
SOPHIE 2.0 IN DEVELOPMENT! | Sophie [also: http://www.sophieproject.org/]
"Sophie is software for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment. Initially designed and developed under the auspices of the Institute for the Future of the Book, Sophie is currently being significantly revised and improved, thanks to a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation in the fall of 2008. Sophie 2.0, with added features and improved stability, will debut October 15, 2009."
education  books  media  writing  squeak  smalltalk  opensource  multimedia  ebooks  sophie  richmedia  authoring  freeware  software 
september 2009 by robertogreco
Croquet Consortium
"powerful new open source software development environment & software infrastructure for creating & deploying deeply collaborative multi-user online applications & metaverses on & across multiple operating systems & devices. Derived from Squeak"
opensource  croquet  visualization  programming  collaboration  squeak  virtualworlds  smalltalk  learning  pedagogy  metaverse  platform  alankay  glvo 
april 2008 by robertogreco
Smalltalk Development on XO - OLPC
"Etoys pretends to be application for end-users, but it's just a kids' playground guarded by soft fences, ...make a hole in fences & get outside, you will have access to full-fledged, general purpose, multimedia ready, integrated development environment"
olpc  etoys  squeak  development  glvo  programming  smalltalk 
april 2008 by robertogreco
Waveplace
"Our larger goal is encouraging kids and adults to use the laptops to their full potential, which can have profound educational benefits."
education  programming  olpc  schools  international  squeak  etoys  learning  teaching  tutorial  howto  alankay  environment  smalltalk 
february 2008 by robertogreco

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