Recently I attended a friend’s birthday party, and encountered a most unusual social barrier. Now my friend is a geek through and through, loves to program, loves board games, science fiction, and has many other interests (though none of them are anime). He’s a good friend that I’ve known for many years and I was all too glad to attend his party (even if I’ve missed out on many of them in previous years).
Being the nerd-geek that he is, his primary form of entertainment at his party was games. Board games, card games, everything from old classics to new hotness with ramps and trick shots. As most of our friends over the years have been geeks also, and we knew him well, we understood that this was pretty much how he’d want a party to be and we accepted wholeheartedly.
The “problem,” though I hesitate to call it that, was that he invited a couple of girls to the party who were not exactly into this sort of geekery. Now the two of them didn’t seem terribly interested in games, and so my friend asked them what they usually do. “We talk,” was the response.
Conversation! We know how to do those! And while we might not have anything in common, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk, right? After all, my birthday friend for example may not like anime nearly as much as I do, and my knowledge of computer science is limited, but we can still talk about our respective interests to each other and enjoy hearing what the other has to say.
And so the first question asked was, “What are your interests?”
The response? “Nothing, really.”
At this point conversation almost died entirely. It managed to recover somewhat eventually, but right after their reply the questions that followed from us were things like “do you have any hobbies?” or “do you have any favorite books?” Our natural geekish tendency to relate to others who might not necessarily have much in common with us by seeing what they were passionate about backfired as the evidence presented to us all but implied that the two of them had no passion. An odd feeling came over me, where I said to myself, “That can’t be, right? People are usually into something, even if they don’t have the time or the resources to pursue it actively.” Even if a guy only watches sports casually, you can still find out what he likes about it and why. But when asking these two after they said they “kind of like sports” about what it is they enjoy about sports, again the answers fell flat.
Another problem that I could see in hindsight is that between us geeks and the non-geeks, we had two very different ideas about what a “conversation” is. Both are predicated on the idea the conversation is “natural,” but with geeks in general I feel like conversation is rooted in our mutual curiosity. We want to find out about subjects. In this case, the subject was these two girls. But for them, conversation meant something much less intense and less active. They still wanted to learn, but not as much as we had come to expect of “conversation.” It was as if for them, conversation was more about “feeling it out” than it was an opportunity to know more.
All of this made me think about the various conversations I have with my fellow anime fans on the internet. There are times when we may disagree vehemently on the very nature of anime and what dictates a “good” or a “bad” show, but we all know that on the other side is someone who has a passion to which they devote their attention. But here, it was like there was nothing in their words that we could take a hold of in order to carry the conversation.
It felt like the most difficult person for a geek to interact with is not “girls,” as the stereotype might say, but simply people who lack interests.