Beyond Hello: From Small Talk to Massive Data Exchange


There’s a book you should read. It’s called CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!. You should read it, whenever you have a moment. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half, and I haven’t gotten to any part where it solves my problems, but I find a lot of comforting words. I don’t know anything about the author, but I imagine it is a guy or gal who lives near a mid-sized U.S. city (in the suburbs) and who experiences the same crazy feeling of busy-ness that I do. I find it comforting to know that someone in the same mess as me could hunker down and get enough perspective on the situation to write a book about it.

Today, I let my day get away from me. A few deployments, some bugs, some meetings, some vague and mysterious software issues, and bumping heads with people trying to arrange separate sit-downs at the same time. None of that is unusual, or a problem – but I let it get away from me.

Not forgotten. Perhaps just never “gotten” in the first place.

But it led to a good conclusion, because as I was walking back to the train with a co-worker, I was receptive to the lesson I was meant to learn today. We chatted a bit, making small talk. Then we launched into a discussion of a “new sickness”, which is not senility, but which affects folks at our fairly young age, just like senility will one day. It is often described as forgetfulness, or it is worried about as memory loss, but in fact, I think we all agree that it is simply an inability to absorb information, due to the volume of it and the manner in which it is served. Not forgotten. Perhaps just never “gotten” in the first place.

Our conversation went like….

BAM. I made a point. BAM. He made a point. BAM. BAM. There were deep philosophical points flying left and right, and as we talked we wove through a sea of train commuters, casually continuing our conversation as soon as we got back within earshot of each other. It was probably the most important conversation of my week, but then I decided to shut down.

“Uh-huh”, I said. “Uh-huh”, I asserted. “Uh-huh”, I agreed. I wasn’t listening anymore – the words were all old to me, and at that moment I began absorbing the lesson instead of the conversation.

BAM. There were deep philosophical points flying …

You see, we had moved beyond hello and away from small talk, over into the vast and burgeoning realm of Massive Data Exchange (MDE).

Massive Data Exchange

MDE occurs all over the place. We (or at least, we who live in densely populated and busy regions) spend countless seconds each day moving quickly beyond the basic niceties of “hey” and “dude!”, and we start scoring other conversation points which could hardly be called “small talk”. We mention the project we are working on (to someone who is not involved in the project). We mention the problem with the coffee machine and how the guy was here and he looked at it and then he left. We mention the meeting we just went to. It’s not important stuff, generally, but it is all burgeoning information to process and decide about.

Other times, we do get into “important stuff”, but at inappropriate times, like while walking down the hall, or to the train (as I experienced today), or even while sitting at our desks, but while we should be keeping to the “zone” of our current thoughts instead of lurching out at new thought-candy as soon as the phone rings or someone pops by our cubicle / office.

Closing your door (literally or figuratively) would often seem rude, but MDE is no better.

The Sequel to Information Overload

We’ve all lived with “information overload” for quite some time. We know how to tune out, how to shut off the news, how to ignore our email inbox, how to unplug, chill-out, and vacate. We often chuckle at the overload, even as our ignoring of it leads projects, tasks, goals, and sometimes even our values, down a muddy hole. We know how to be light-hearted, and goto Happy Hour.

But Massive Data Exchange is something we don’t seem to quite know about, or how to stop. Reflexively, it seems, when we meet, we dump information on each other, pulling great barrels of experience, trivia, news, and “catching-up” out of our personal data warehouses, and pummeling our closest friends and family, as well as our co-workers and, on occasion, the unsuspecting barista at Starbucks. We see “catching-up” as a good thing, even though it is often very unsatisfying.

And some of us just toss our pummeling barrels of data at you via blog. šŸ™‚