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Is Small Talk Dead in the COVID Era?

It’s the first day of freshman year. You walk into your huge, 300 person lecture and sit down in a row close to the front, but not too close. You don’t know anyone in your class, but you quickly notice that the people around you are in the same boat. The professor is up on stage setting up, so you all strike up a conversation while you wait. Within just a few minutes, you realize one of them has a mutual friend with you, one is from your hometown, and the other you have a class with tomorrow! You’ve also got three new study buddies. How convenient.

Attending “Zoom University” has completely disrupted that process. Instead of walking to class with your friends, you’re simply transplanting from your bed to your desk. Instead of chatting with acquaintances while you wait for the lecture to start, you sit silently with your mic and camera off, watching the professor fumble to coordinate the many responsibilities they are expected to excel at with little adequate guidance. Maybe you send the one friend you know a quick “hey” through the private chat function, but it doesn’t go much further than that.

As a 100% remote student this semester with most of my classes being big lectures, I’ve been feeling these changes profoundly. It feels so isolating to be in classes with hundreds of students throughout the day, yet not even see most of them. Maybe I crave this kind of “shallow” small talk because my extroverted side is popping out, or because I’ve been inside my house for the past six months (throwback to me feeling sad about quarantine three weeks in). But I truly believe that having these kinds of interactions had a positive impact on my learning at school.

So, is small talk completely dead now that we are operating within these LfA circumstances

[bf_image id="qg34sa-a22f74-5hcrri"] I think it can be saved. Some of it is outside of our personal control––for example, if professors use breakout rooms and other people make an effort to speak up, you can converse almost as easily as if you were sitting next to each other in a lecture hall.

But also, as nerve-wracking as it is, I think there’s no time like now to be bold. If you recognize people in your classes but maybe haven’t spoken to them in a few months, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot them a text to say hey! In my mind, that’s the equivalent of seeing them in the lecture hall and sitting by them. The worst thing that can happen is they don’t respond or you don’t end up talking again, but the best thing is that you gain a new study buddy and/or friend in the class. 

As cliche as this all sounds, I think this is a time period during which we need as much social support as we can get. I know I’ve been feeling particularly isolated as many of my friends move back to college and it seems like the world around me is moving while I stay in place. 

Though any form of social interaction outside of the norm engenders a bit of anxiety after so much time in quarantine, I like to remember that overall, reaching out to someone probably brightens their day just as much as their response brightens yours! Small talk doesn’t have to be completely dead if we don’t want it to be––it just looks different now.

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Anika is a sophomore at Boston University studying Media Science and Psychology. She is from San Diego, CA and enjoys going to the beach, doing yoga and listening to music.
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