Bah Sophistication

On the radio recently some guy said he didn’t want his new kid to have electronic toys, so he looked up his old favorite, Legos, on the web. He was horrified to see websites for obsessive adult male hobbyists, who devoted decades and huge sums to develop lego masterpieces. He worried his kid might grow up like that.

Me, I worry my kids will grow up to be the opposite: sophisticated. While such folks can be very smart and capable, they are uninteresting. I blame their having too many hobbies. Their conversations swirl around the same standard topics: food, music, movies, novels, travel, sports, clothes, houses, politics, etc., all of which they each feel the need to be ready to quip. Sophisticated folks are horrified to seem to not care or know the standard amount about any standard hobby. The sort of folks one wants to know, e.g., to invite to a dinner party, simply must be ready to converse lightly and intelligently (if not insightfully) on the latest fashions in all such areas. The problem is that maintaining a basic proficiency in all these topics, in addition to keeping up a job and family, etc., takes a up pretty much all their time and energy.

Interesting folks, in contrast, get so far into a particular topic that they become at risk of violating conversation etiquette, by talking too enthusiastically for too long on topics of minor interest to sophisticates. Yes, interesting folk are at risk of being distracted from dress or hygiene, or from carefully climbing their local status ladder. But they are also at risk of making a unique contribution to the world. They are also the sort of person from which you might actually hear something new, something you couldn’t hear from a million different sophisticates.

Of course our vast world of huge organizations has many roles for sophisticates as conformist middle managers and professionals, as they can better size each other up and talk in a common vocabulary. There are also roles for interesting folks, but more off to the edges, where their awkward obsessions least disrupt the smooth flow of sophisticate banter. But interesting folk are still the people I most want to talk to, to know, and to be.

Added: Adam Ozimek riffs.

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