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Where's the idle chatter?

Ever notice that no one asks for directions anymore? Think about it. When was the last time a random stranger pulled over and asked you where Jefferson Street is? Probably too long ago to even remember. Obviously, we are all walking around with a mini-GPS in our pocket every day, but are we trading convenience for our social wellness? Don't get me wrong, I am highly dependent on my cell for all things imaginable. Wondering how old Dolly Parton is? I can tell you in about 7 seconds. Want to know how long to soft boil an egg? When is the next full moon? What is the best coffee shop in San Francisco? The magic of having these answers literally at our fingertips is fabulous but comes with a big price tag. It has stolen something from us. Social interactions through conversation.

Idle chatter has so many benefits. It strengthens our social health and wellbeing, but it also decreases the likelihood of feeling lonely, strengthens relationships and contributes to community building too. During the pandemic the already trending decrease in idle chatter was amplified by the "push everything online" notion. Everything from education to community events to visiting friends and family was ushered into the digital space. Great for those that have barriers to accessing resources and great for containing a contagious bug, but bad for social connectedness and humanity.

According to Harvard University, as of 2021 over a third of Americans reported being lonely. And this is not just an older adult issue as you might initially consider when reading this statistic, it is an “everyone issue”. Over 60% of young adults and over 50% mothers of young children report feeling "serious loneliness". You might think that feeling lonely is just a part of life that happens to everyone at some point, but sustained loneliness has real consequences. The feeling of loneliness can result in not only depression and anxiety as one might expect, but it can also result in unexpected consequences like an increased risk of heart disease, substance misuse, obesity, and even cognitive decline. This is serious stuff.

So, what can we do to stay socially healthy and well? Well, one thing would be - idle chit chatter! That's right. When you see your neighbor introduce yourself and talk about the weather. Ask your coworker for directions on how to get to the new coffee shop. When you have a conversation with a buddy, keep the phone in your purse and just enjoy conversation without looking up how old Dolly is. When you want to know how long to boil that egg, call up mom and ask her! There are so many small changes we can make to our daily life that exclude our "digital reflex" and include social interactions; the possibilities are endless! Time for some chattering!



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