Thursday, March 30, 2006
Talking About the Weather
I noticed today, upon running into the first co-worker of mine to arrive after I opened the office, that our 3 seconds of passing conversation consisted of two things: a mutual greeting and a comment on the weather. Then we went our seperate ways in the hallway and got to work. At least in this office world of quick and passing conversations, this seems to happen a lot (the weather part).
Thinking about this conversation and all the countless ones like it had me laughing to moyself. The weather. Countless jokes have been made about the weather being the most over-used fall-back conversation of all-time, perhaps. For a while (up until just now, actually) I wrote this off as a "safe" thing to talk about for people who otherwise have seemingly "nothing" to share with each other (for whatever reason). This seemed to cover it for me, but today I have a different take on it.
Lets go back, way back, to a time around the birth of what we recognize as language. On some level, birds and bees and dogs and mice have some sort of communication. Would we call it language? For the most part no -- though I hope this doesn't imply that their communication doesn't work or serve a meaningful purpose both for survival and even an artistic purpose. But happy or sad whales singing to themselves aside, I wanna get to the meat of our human language -- whatever that may be.
Survival seems to be the most basic need of language. They talk about this in Waking Life, using the example of "SABER TOOTH TIGER RIGHT BEHIND YOU," which would surely do its job in helping people survive. In those rare but reoccuring circumstances where quickk and precise communication was necessary, this would certainly raise one's survival merit.
But all these life-or-death circumstances aside (which I cannot think would make up a sizable amount of time in ones day-to-day life), our ancesters were left with an intellect that was capable of communicating (with mutually understood words) but might have had nothing survival-worthy to say. But did we keep quiet? Do all of our musings today have to do strictly with our immediate survival? No, of course.
So, the image I get when I think way back into the past, is that the social beings that were our ancestors, for 95% of their waking life when they were NOT in life-or-death situations (requiring their saber-tooth tiger warnings), were left saying nothing -- but they most certainly had things to say. What would you talk about? When gathering berries, collecting firewood, gathering stones, scouting the hills, or weaving a basket, what remains constant? What is there to comment on?
The answer to this question -- one answer, at least -- is based off the of the foundation that the socially-constructed terms of "inside" and "outside" did not exist for our ancestors. They were always "outside," as we would call it. Paying attention to "the natural world" (which was just "the world" to them) was probably quite an important thing. And with this in-grown instinct to pay attention to the natural (outside) world, what is a by-product?
Well, making comments about it, of course! And "it" most certainly equates to the weather. So there is my argument -- while "talking about the weather" is something we joke about, I throw out the argument that this is perhaps the most talked-about subject in the history of humankind.
Nowadays, we live in climate-controlled environments ("inside") that is cut off from the "outdoor" world which 99% of our ancestors spent 100% of their time in. So when we go to fill up our water battle at the water cooler and catch a glimpse of the sunny spring day outside the window, let us not feel bad about our inner-urges to make a comment about the weather. Really, there isn't much that would be more properly human to talk about.
Posted by davidpots at 8:45 AM