Okay, I’ve admitted a few times on here that I’m autistic, and for some reason that always surprises everyone. I have no idea why, but apparently to the Internet world I’m not at all different or weird. It’s nice to be accepted as is and not have to pretend to be someone different to fit in, but I feel the need to confess to the occasional lack of small talk ability. What does that have to do with interaction on the Internet?
Trust me, a lot of groups I belong to thrive on small talk, just like any group of people in “real life.” I enjoy reading the exchanges (it also helps me write more realistic characters) and sometimes I join the written small talk. A lot of times, however, I know I ought to respond somehow, but I have no idea what to say. While I’m trying to figure it out, days can pass. By the time I have something to add to the conversation, the topic has changed and I remain silent, which is what happens in the non-virtual world as well.
I know, you’re probably thinking, “It’s email groups/forums/etc. That stuff hangs around forever. Why not go ahead and respond, even if it is a week or more later?” The simple answer? The real world has me too well trained. In face-to-face interactions, there have been way too many times I’ve finally added something to the conversation several minutes after the topic has moved on and received strange looks, expressions of annoyance, or (the worst) brought the conversation to a complete halt and people suddenly have something else to do. I can’t shake the feeling that when I respond late to a topic when the group is already on a different topic, the other groups members are sitting at their own computers wondering what I was thinking for trying to keep a closed subject open. Goofy fear on my part, I know, but that’s the way it is.
My only excuse for small talk difficulties, whether online or not, is that people on the spectrum are known for problems with social interaction. Within five or ten minutes of meeting me in person, people rarely have any trouble believing I have an ASD (autism spectrum disorder). But as I’ve said before, the Internet is a great equalizer. I have plenty of time to think about how to say what I want to say, and I can revise it before sending if I need to. I also don’t have to worry about stumbling over words or the words getting stuck somewhere between my brain and my mouth, because I don’t have to verbalize my thoughts. I do it all through written word, which is the easiest way for me to convey my thoughts. The only drawback (aside from brain freeze in chat rooms) is the whole “small talk overwhelms me at times” thing.
To stay marginally on topic, I ran across a comic today that describes me perfectly on some days:
EDIT: It appears this comic may or may not show fully thanks to my blog design. If you have trouble seeing the full image, you can find the original here.
There’s nothing like trying to figure out how much information to give, how to best describe how you’re doing, etc. in a split second. Thankfully, most of the time I feel kind of like Pavlov’s dogs. The question “How are you?” is my bell and my automatic response is, “Fine,” regardless of the dozen or so ways I could answer. I know a conditioned response like that doesn’t sound like something to be thankful for, but it’s a whole lot less awkward than the long, likely rambling answer I would otherwise give about how I am.
Will I ever fully overcome my troubles with small talk? I seriously doubt it. For one thing, I get bored easily with conversations that go nowhere. Plus, my brain just doesn’t think “chitchat” most of the time. I can usually fake it pretty well, but most of the time I definitely prefer deeper conversations…you know, the ones that do more than fill silence.
Okay, reading that last paragraph makes me wonder just how snarky people will find it, but I didn’t mean it in a snarky way at all. That’s just the way I see it. I’m sure there are others who enjoy small talk, and I admire you for the ability to chitchat with ease. Differences in personalities keep the world an interesting place to live.
On a side note, I’ll be chatting with The Sweetest Romance Authors all day Thursday, January 14, at the Coffee Time Romance forum. Be sure to stop by and leave a comment or two! Even though I’m not that great at small talk, I always enjoy the chance to chat with readers and other authors.