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“Just Killing Time”

by on March 22, 2015

                                                            “Just Killing Time”

by Marco M. Pardi

Note: All comments are appreciated, read, and responded to accordingly.  The comments sections for all previous articles have been opened for use.  I will certainly look forward to your comments. 

“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.” Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Virtue #2 (“Silence”), 1784, Autobiography 1798

So much is written about the benefits and virtues of solitude.  And, in large part I agree.  However I also recognize the hazards that lie therein.  And, I recognize that daily life for most people includes “socializing” in some form and duration. I have observed people who appeared to be masters of socializing.  They remind me of how, as a youth, I stood in a stone canyon formed by school buildings and bounced a tennis ball off the three walls facing me.  These people are able to pivot in a crowded room, reflecting the statements thrown into the air, never showing a sign of genuinely felt impact or contemplation.  And, like the walls, never initiating an original throw of their own.  There is never a sign of how deep they are, no matter the force of what’s thrown against them.  Is anyone in there?  Has that 1970’s computer game, “Pong” infiltrated human life, or did the game arise from the human condition?

Much as I realize the mental health value of occasional socializing, I dread having to do it.  That old, “I’d rather have a root canal” comes to mind.  But just as regular dental checks prevent the need for root canals, occasional social events may prevent the need for a personality canal.

I have long recognized that I seem to have few things in common with many people, at least at the level on which they operate during social events.  I have utterly no interest in sports, except Formula 1 racing.  And, my interest is in the technology, not the drivers.  I have no interest in film stars, their sex habits, their latest diets.  Even when someone dares open the field of politics I hear the discussions as considerations of the illusions, the mirrors, the Punch & Judy show with no one daring to consider the puppet masters and the skill with which they delude the “voting public”.  Probably the most common response to comments I make is, “Uh, hum” before the subject moves on.

Although at times I see my inability to engage in “small talk” as a kind of personal failing – after all, a social scientist should be able to navigate society, my greatest distress arises when I seem unable to connect with a dog, cat, or horse to whom I’ve been introduced.  That is very troubling indeed.  In fact, social gatherings at someone’s home are, for me, dreadful unless there are pets with whom I can quietly slip away and converse.  Absent those, I look for interesting bookshelves and art.  Without these resources I can only watch the loud, jabbering crowd as if through a fluoroscope, their mandibles bobbing up and down, their skeletons assuming awkward angles as they “put their best foot forward.”

I have no desire to leap into and be accepted in this mosh pit.  If anything, I desire only to learn the secret formula developed by H. G. Well’s Invisible Man.  Judging by the interactions in the last few events, I must be close.

The literary scene of the early 1980’s came alive with books about the coming Information Age. I read a couple of them, but still wondered at precisely what the information would be.  I certainly did not foresee the advent of the world wide web, Google, or gaggle, or whatever.  Nor did I foresee the endless offerings of misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies cited authoritatively as, “It’s on the internet.”

My family had a very large cabinet based record player with full am/fm/sw capability.  Around age 9 I became fascinated with crawling very slowly along the short wave bands, listening to some clear text broadcasts but also learning to discern random static (noise) from signals such as Morse code.  I became fairly successful at learning Morse code but was still unable to decipher it at the speeds usually heard.  Secret invasion plans?  Or strudel recipes?  Of course, successful decipherment would hinge on knowing the language the code was conveying.

At age 12 I repurposed our electric train transformer into the power base for a working telegraph system, connecting two distant rooms in our basement with wires.  It took only one good jolt to realize I needed to depress the key with a non-conductive material.  Now, what to say?  “Watson, come here. I need you”? But since no one else in the family was interested I simply enlarged my venue for talking to myself – a profile which served me well years later hosting a call-in radio talk show.  At least at the radio station my engineer carefully and frequently used the 7 second delay to screen the incoming curses and threats.  I wonder what a 7 second delay would be like at a social gathering.

Years later, in London, I bought a table model Telefunken am/fm/sw radio.  Again crawling the short wave bands I heard a proliferation of burst transmissions – encoded transmissions pre-recorded and transmitted at ultra high speed.  The intended recipients, supplied with recording devices, would have been notified of the date and exact time of the transmission and often the recording speed.  All that in hand they could record and decode the message, code book if necessary at one side.  Within limits, time was not an issue. But decoding the streaming cross currents in a social gathering must be done in real time, leaving no room for error or clarification if one intends to respond.  Which I think partially explains the apparent phenomenon of people waiting for another to finish, or just break their speech, so they can insert their statements. Leaving one to wonder……so many people speaking, but who is really listening?  I’ll see your noise and raise you one.

Noise is an issue.  My hearing was damaged by military ordnance.  But how close may I stand, or want to stand when talking with someone.  Dinner gatherings in restaurants are usually the worst.  The background din, especially if there is some cacophony generously called music, presses people close enough to qualify for their own room to say nothing of extra leniency when wiping someone else’s thoughts off your cheek.  I take great interest in the dinnerware. A quiet and well timed fart also serves to maintain spacing.

And then there is the interesting phenomenon of closing the interaction.  My nightly two hour radio show had a fixed duration; like it or not, network news would blow over any utterances I may yet have left.  So I could always watch the clock or my engineer’s hand signal, and sign off with some insipid statement like, “Well, that’s all for now.”  Or, “Bugger off, you backwoods morons.” (Thanks for the delay, engineer)

But I’m fascinated by the choreography of parting, especially in stand-up social gatherings.  When two people seem to be losing their momentum the furtive glances begin, the hopeful looks for a third party to arrive and grease the departure for at least one of the dyad.  Failing this, there’s usually the unnecessary trip to the restroom (wherein the sheer number of prayers offered for deliverance rivals that of any church I know of) or a return to the buffet table for another pass at the collapsing fare.

But the Grand Finale is almost worth waiting for.  The sheerest prick in the social membrane, the first couple leaving, sparks an excretion of cytoplasm from the social cell that brings awe to the most experienced cell biologist.

I’m certainly no Behaviorist, but social gatherings do inspire more interest in what people do than in what they say.

Ah, well pardon me for a moment, will you?   

 

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15 Comments
  1. I so relate to this. What are the hazards of solitude? Thank you for reading material as I sit in jury duty. While it provides much needed entertainment it also has me absorbed so no one attempts to speak to me. As each person passes I pray like you speak of, “please don’t sit next to me.” And those people who are talking I want to beg to shut up. Thanks for a perfectly timed piece. As I sit here I am vowing this is the last time I am going to leave my house.

  2. So glad to be of service, Mary. The hazards of solitude were recognized as early as St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In founding a monastery he was adamant that the monks not isolate themselves for too long.

    I’ve seen people here in Georgia excused from jury duty by saying, “He’s Black, He did it.” I doubt you want to try that, but you have my sympathy. I’m permanently excused from jury duty. Old men have to pee too often.

  3. One may take time, make time, waste time, keep time, or waste time, but one should never kill time; it’s much too valuable a commodity, and we are given far too little of it.

    As for social activity, I could not be more in agreement. The very thought of spending time with a bunch of strangers makes me anxious. Being with those I know isn’t much better. I am better in small groups, best when I am alone.

    The last party I attended was actually painful. My husband and I sat in hard chairs against a wall most of the evening, across the room from the only other person our age. The music was too loud to hold a conversation, and our exit was blocked early by a long table set up for playing “beer pong”. The food (what there was of it) consisted of whatever leftovers the guests brought with them. There were no books, no animals, and the art work consisted of NY Yankee posters.

    To say I was ready to go long before the end is an extreme understatement. The party wound down when one drunken guest headed for the bathroom to…divest herself of her food and drink. It ended when the host ended his “dance” by throwing a tv tray down the stairwell. The guests couldn’t leave quickly enough.

    There may be hazards to long term solitude, and certainly being alone does not lend itself to the development of social skills, but given the option of occasions like the one above or being alone (or perhaps with one other), I’ll take solitude every time.

    • What an awful experience! I don’t drink, or use any mind altering substances, so watching people who do is like watching slow motion car wrecks. Yes, Rose, I do feel guilty when I catch myself killing time. Even wishing it were tomorrow is a bad thing to me. I hope you are not somehow obligated to attend another of those functions. How dreadful.

    • make that “spend time”; the hazards of editing on the fly

  4. Gary permalink

    This piece really resonated with me. Ever since I was a socially awkward teenager I have been uncomfortable with parties and large group settings, particularly ones in which I know few people. I have had two wives, both of whom were far better at the social butterfly scene and who upbraided me for my “embarrassing” reticence. In my career it was necessary for me to attend endless business receptions and be bored out of my mind. I dreaded such occasions. I finally took up golf so that I would have some point of conversation with these people. I dropped the game as soon as I retired.

    I used to think that I was odd, but since I have retired I have met so many people who express exactly the same feelings about this kind of socialization I have now begun to suspect I am more mainstream.

    • Thanks very much, Gary. I know you recognize the irony in being a loner among loners. And, I strongly suspect you, at times, want to throttle someone into talking seriously about something for a change. Later in life someone in my family opined that I would have made a good attorney. Perhaps, except for that niggling issue of having to deal with people. I admire the fact that you made it through to a satisfying retirement.

  5. Marco, as you know I love, love, LOVE being alone. In the woods, at home, in the car, even at work, I treasure solitude whenever and wherever I manage to find it. I was not at all surprised to find out my personality is INTJ, and I’ve taken the test several times to reaffirm this.

    However miserable I am at social gatherings, I am still able to create an extroverted persona when and if necessary. I have been forced to do this at various times throughout my life, and it comes in handy. But it also wears me out, since it often requires summoning up energy I am loathe to give away.

    I was a weird little child who also loved to be alone. If I had friends, they too were the “weird,” introverted kids. During Saskatchewan winters when blizzards and dipping temperatures forced me indoors, I happily played board games like Scrabble by myself (when I wasn’t reading). Other imaginative activities like playing “house,” “store,” and “school,” were managed by creating different characters for myself.

    It’s unfortunate that others (mainly extroverts) don’t always relate to this need for solitude. It is truly a necessity for me. I simply cannot spend all my waking moments with people; it almost makes me feel physically ill at times. It’s extremely tiring. We all need time to recharge, but I do think introverts need this even more.

    Those who truly know me understand that I do not and cannot make many plans far in advance anymore. Plans might fall on a day or evening I need to be alone. I have a wonderful friend I met at The Carter Center (a fellow introvert). She and I have both flaked out on plans with one another, but each understands why this happens….

    • Thank you, Dana. As you know, I share your preference for solitude. But I think we both enjoy a vigorous joining of minds with someone compatible, even if only in small doses. Now, with so many people walking around talking into their unobtrusive Bluetooth devices I no longer feel self conscious walking Plato and talking to my heart’s content. I find not talking is like being on a liquid diet; one begins to miss chewing.

      I’m so looking forward to your blog. It has certainly been an outlet for me.

      • Marco, I am thoroughly enjoying newfound interaction with my co-workers, the psychics at Inner Space. They are a wonderful group of women. Having worked in so many hostile environments, this is very refreshing.

        I would like to write one day, and when “things” settle down, will begin to think about it more seriously. I appreciate your confidence in my ability and your encouragement.

  6. Khalid permalink

    Hi Marco and hello everybody. I heard some so-called expert say that we human beings are sociable animals by nature. According to what I heard, being sociable is not an option it is The only option. Frankly speaking, some gatherings are hard to swallow when nobody listens and the whole thing is a monologue. As far as I am concerned, there is no point in being in a background noisy atmosphere unable to be simply yourself. Oh yes, what a terrible expression to say,” killing time” I have never thought about it 🙂

    • Thank you, Khalid. So glad to have you participating. Yes, sociability is a trait of most primates, with the notable exception of adult male Orangutans. Perhaps I should have my DNA examined. I think I follow your point when I say such gatherings are little more than round-robin expositions. At such times observation is the only socially redeeming benefit. Marco

  7. Hi Marco, just browsing amongst your articles and happened to stumble upon this one. So if I understood correctly, is “killing time” in reference to social gatherings which you’d rather not attend or which produce undesirable feelings? There have been moments or situations where I’ve also felt like this, so definitely something relatable.

    It seems to me that, with the explosion of social media in the past decade, there has been an increased societal pressure for people to engage more activiely in these social activities, and therefore to spend less time in solitude. Just an impression.

    While sometimes I don’t mind and actually enjoy spending time with dear/loved ones, I also feel that it’s necessary to carve out some alone time. Just to find some peace of mind. Anyways, interesting read, always something peculiar to think about, cheers.

    • Thank you, Psy. I agree there is concern over people isolating behind their social media. But the dismay I wrote of long pre-dates that and is still appropriate. For example, I don’t have an I-Phone, and don’t want one. Perhaps if I were in possession of one I would find a quiet spot and just spend time with that. However, I doubt that. I try to avoid being rude, and am simply present – even if not engaged in what I so often find to be inane conversation. I have precious few dear/loved ones, and more often find myself engaged in categorical relationships such as, “These are neighbors” etc. I can really do without those.

      Sometimes I do question my real abilities as an anthropologist. I feel I should be able to interact with all sorts of people but my personhood quietly screams.

      • Well, my older brother also majored in anthropology and he seems to behave in a similar manner, preferring to keep to himself most of the time. I see some similarities between you and him, more often than not. He also doesn’t have a smartphone, funnily enough. Cheers.

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