from the archives: typographical conversation theory


Inspired by recent small-talk-related posts from Kristen Larson and rock star Ian Miller, here's a reprint of some old conversational research done by me and Aaron Vinson (I'd link to his blog if he had posted anything yet) in our old guise of Pentavirate West. This piece was written in 1998, but the comedy was preserved in salt, so it would keep. Apologies to Douglas Hofstadter for the title:

Typographical Conversation Theory

It has been noted in the past few days how repetitive and useless many of
the conversations that occupy our daily lives are. Fred Lee observed that
by the end of the year in Norton Hall, no one could even go to the restroom
without getting bogged down in five minutes of meaningless drivel, or, as
Quentin Tarantino so eloquently put it, "mindless, boring,
getting-to-know-you chit-chat." With that in mind, here's a shorthand guide
to many conversations one can be faced with, and their corresponding
numbers. Ideally, when one senses that another cliched conversation is upon
him, one can simply say the number, or just raise a finger, and then
proceed with the rest of one's life.

1) Any conversation that is about politics, but doesn't feature any actual
knowledge from the talkers

This can be summarized as; "I believe Clinton will be impeached because
blah blah blah damned liberals" or "Kenneth Starr is a big jerk blah blah
blah right-wing conspiracy." Just raise a finger, and don't even think
about saying the phrase; "It tastes good."

2) "Hey, what are you doing tonight?"

Nobody cares what you're doing tonight. They just asked out of politeness.
And, whether you say "going to a party" or "studying" or even "masturbating
while listening to No Doubt" the response will invariably be, "That's
cool." Don't go down that road, my friends.

3) One person expresses sexual desire for a third party, and outlines
possible plans for obtaining sex or a relationship

Saying "three" could be replaced by simply saying, "hypothalamus," but that might prove cumbersome.

4) The Difference Between Men and Women

Comment about gender difference. Example. Small laughter. Ludicrous
extension of first example. More laughter. Agreement and mutual wonder at
the grand difference between men and women.

5) A reference to some element of pop culture known to all

Hey, remember the Smurfs? Wasn't it weird that there was only one girl?
Hey, remember that 'Seinfeld' episode where all of their plans get
frustrated in the end? Wasn't that great? Don't you want to relive the
magic of sharing that cultural moment again and again and again? And again?

6) Drug use

This covers plans to get drunk/high, stories about those crazy things done
while drunk/high, cool places to go/cool things to do while drunk/high,
and assurances that one will never get drunk/high ever again, at least for
a while. Most importantly, this covers conversations about being drunk/high
that take place while drunk/high. "Boy, this controlled substance has
really altered my perceptions of myself since before I was under the
influence of this controlled substance."

7) Embodiment
Isn't it weird that we have bodies? Defecation, urination, menstruation,
satiation of biological needs through eating or drinking, working out, or
any mention of physical comfort/discomfort fall into this definition. It
boils down to commenting on the strangeness that our consciousness is
attached to a physical body.

This Typographical Theory of Conversations is not without its limitations,
however. Conversations about conversations (meta-conversations) are not
covered by this shorthand guide. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem also states
that there are true conversations that cannot be derived by the
Typographical Theory of Conversations, as well as false conversations
produced by said theory. That being said, it is hoped that this guide can
expedite your small talk and leave more time for the truly important things
in life; namely, this hot girl named Amy on my floor. (3)

* * *

There have been comments about the limitations of the Typographical
Conversation Theory; namely, that there are some mindless discussions not
covered. After consideration, Pentavirate West has decided to amend the
theory to make it a more powerful and comprehensive tool.

8) Sports

In the immortal words of philosopher Frederick Lee, "Let's get tall." This covers
discussions of watching sports, playing sports, handicapping sports,
injuries suffered through sports, or even listening to the Huey Lewis and
the News album "Sports." This category contains elements of #1 (Uninformed
discussions) and parts of #7 (physical discomfort), but is quite effective,
especially when faced with a veritable barrage of tall, marginally educated
student-athletes in one's college life.

9) Art

Have you seen this movie? Is Scorsese a good director? Do you actually know
anything about film to make this judgment, or are you simply talking out
your ass? Any uninformed discussion of art, full of pretentiousness and
bluster, falls into this category. Again, similarity is seen to #1, but it
is the opinion of Pentavirate West that this is a large enough
conversational annoyance to necessitate its own division and number.

*Special note on combined conversations:

A question has been raised as to what designation should go to
conversations that contain elements of more than one type, e.g. An athlete
discussing his plans to get drunk in the evening following a game (#2, #6,
#8) seemingly falls into many categories. What is the informed
conversational theorist to do? While it is possible to raise the
appropriate number of fingers for each of the conversational cliches
present, a more effective solution is to simply choose the predominant
cliche, and utilize its signal. Ultimately, specificity is less important
than just making the boring conversation go away.

Pentavirate West welcomes comments about the Typographical Theory of
Conversations, but reserves the right to raise the appropriate number of
fingers during said comments. Peace in the 98.


For the added convenience of those brave enough to continue talking to you and Dr. V after this flagrant nose-thumbing at "chit chat" has been made so public, I suggest that you carry with you a buzzer or noisemaker of some variety. Its function would be to alert poor slobs when they are broaching one of the many taboo topics you have just mentioned. I mean, really it would just help everyone, I think.

you should know that my full title ALSO includes "rock star." you don't have to correct this entry or anything; just feel free to make note of it for the future.

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on February 18, 2003 1:06 PM.

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