I’m not into small talk; I prefer to talk to people about big ideas. I want to talk big ideas to people who are smart, knowledgeable, and passionate about big ideas, and where it seems that convincing them about something on a big idea has a decent chance of changing their behavior in important ways.
As the great poet said "Everybody's got a thing, but some don't know how to handle it."
I'm convinced that the way we discourse online is constricted by the patience people have with clunky interfaces and the limited capabilities of web-chat. This has been a thing for me for decades. I hope to do something about that as soon as I learn how to draw Wardley maps.
Part of this problem is that your understanding about who has got a thing is almost entirely a function of popularity as determined by social media. That's one reason the entire blogosphere has been swamped, and the best bloggers - rather I should say the most popular bloggers have gone to a very few places none of which is the blogosphere.
I think that every person has a thing but many are afraid of it because it makes them stand out, or worse, it makes them stand alone. So, perhaps a little sympathy for the thing-phobic thralls of humanity. Ours is a homogenized culture (by design) and having a thing is discouraged unless that thing is pre-approved, like a credit card offer. The odds of acceptance must be high within the tribal structure and the more the thing challenges the common order the more dangerous it is to articulate. That's why people get kicked off social media. The things that make us think are the things that scare a great many the most.
I agree that another failure mode is to be too heavy, serious, preachy. Try to not make your listeners feel judged. I'll add this point to the post.
From a social skills perspective, I think that there is a compromise where you have a weird, idiosyncratic, concrete thing. That way, you can be relatively interesting while being 'fun' because you are avoiding coming trackably close to making moral claims or to making yourself vulnerable to moral claims against you. For instance, yesterday I was in a conversation lead by someone who had a thing about the Wu Tang Clan unreleased album. It's a lot less exciting than AI risk but it's also more unusual, so less played out, at least in my world, and it's not threatening while being MUCH more interesting than small talk.
I am fully with this concept. I have always looked for what people's things were, most often finding that there was not one, but once in a while, there is one and I am glad for that. I have always found more enjoyment and fulfillment with those who have a viewpoint, or take a stand, or are doers or makers or creators.
Agree 100%. Indeed, this advice is very similar to what you gave me my first year at GMU.
I'd add that having a thing and talking about that thing can help you understand what your thing really is. I came in to GMU saying my thing was property rights (and it is), but in conversations with Robin Hanson (indeed, this post of his is very similar to advice he gave me my first year at GMU), Donald J. Boudreaux, John Nye, Alex Tabarrok, Garett Jones, Michael Enz, and others that my thing really is transaction costs.
This may change my behavior, thanks. I often ask people whether they have any hobbies. It gets people talking and a sufficient obsession with most anything can be pretty interesting. But now realize that some of the most compelling resulting conversations have been about "things." I think I'll try more consciously nudging conversations thing-ward for awhile.
I know what you mean. A substantial proportion of my discussions could be categorized as seeing if someone has a thing. Sometimes I find one and have a nice discussion. Often they are slightly interested in one of my things, and get a lecture. Some people are just boring small talk. Even the people who have a thing, and its stupid, (Jehovah witnesses) can be more interesting to talk to than people that only do smalltalk.