The Conversational Googlist

You’ve heard of the conversational narcissist, the person who talks about himself non-stop in a conversation except for occasional pauses to take a refreshing glance at his reflection in your eyes? Today, on Homeschool Impossible we will take a look at the new and not so improved twenty-first century conversational narcissist – the conversational googlist – and how your kids could be at risk.

But first let’s look at how an old school conversational narcissist looks. Here is an officia
transcript of a conversation I had many years ago with an elderly lady in a church parking lot:

Me: “Guess what, my daughter is going to Germany! She earned the money herself.
She will be staying with friends for three weeks. I’m so excited for her!”

Church Lady: “Germany? Oh, I went there. Twice. I went to Italy. I went to France. I
was in England for two weeks. I went on a lot of trips. Germany was nice. France
was better. She’s not going to France, is she? Oh well. I traveled a lot. I will now
talk about that for the next twenty minutes.”

This is the “legacy” mode of converting a conversation to be all about you. It has pros and cons. Pro: It is popular with users of all ages. Con: Out-bragging your opponent requires a lot of energy.

Now thanks to the digital age, there in an upgrade on the market – the conversational googlist.

At first glance, it seems to be a major improvement. The conversational googlist wants the other person to do the talking. She is interested in what you have to offer.
It is very popular with tech users. Imagine our church lady as a millennial and here is how the Germany conversation would play:

Me: “Guess what, my daughter is going to Germany! She earned the money herself.
She will be staying with friends for three weeks. I’m so excited for her!”

Her: “Germany? How did she get that gig?”

Me: “I know, right? We have some friends who live there and-“

Her: “I don’t know anybody there. Did she get a cheap flight

Me: “Kind of, we had some Skymiles points-“

Her: “I don’t have that kind of credit card. What websites did you use to compare flights?”

Me: “Um…”

Her “Nevermind, I can google it. Is there a better time to book? Spring? Fall?”

Me: “I think the off-season is winter.”

Her: “Yeah but is it cold? It might not be worth it. What’s interesting to see there?

Me: “They’re planning on seeing Beethoven’s house in Bonn.”

Her: “Yeah, I’m not really into classical music. What else is there?”

Me: “They’re going to do Aachen, Charlemagne’s birthplace, and Cologne. There’s a huge gothic cathe-“

Her: “Eh, I think I’d rather go to France. Do know anything about that?”

This sounds like a give and take conversation but it is really a google search. Point. Click. Click away. Scroll down. Click. Refine search. Click away. New search. It is not an improvement after all.

The old school conversational narcissist at least treats you as a person, albeit a competitor or audience member; the conversational googlist treats you as an app.

The present generation of young adults is chiefly at risk for this behavior because it is the first that did not have to wait more than two seconds to get information. Most of them have never had to look up word in a 1500 page dictionary, never had to flip through the card catalog drawers to find sources for a research paper, never had to visit Grandpa to get a visual on what life was like back in 1949. Information
has always been a google click away.

Not that I would change that. I use google myself daily. But I am glad that in my formative years you had to be patient if you wanted information. You had to learn to use the guide words before you could crack a dictionary; you had to drive to the library and have someone there show you how to navigate the drawers; you had to wait for Grandpa while he got his photo album down off the shelf and then looked for his glasses for the next half hour. You had different expectations of your tasks, your sources, and the people who were helping you.

Now, it’s about speed. Speed is not just a means, it’s an end. This not only louses up the quality of a conversation, as seen above, but it often interferes with efficiency, as seen in our next example.

Not long ago, I contacted the local school district. That’s where you have to go if you want your teen to get working papers. Not wishing to go while the school kids were there, I called ahead. A young receptionist picked up. Transcript follows:

Me: “Hi, I would like to bring my daughter in today for working papers and -“

Her: “You would need to bring her birth certificate, your driver’s license, and her last
report card.”

Me: (Resisting the urge to say, I know. I looked all that up online before I called. Would you hang in there for my real question?) “What I am asking is: When is
dismissal -“

Her: “Dismissal is at 2:15.”

Me: “When is dismissal over?”

Her: “Again, dismissal is at 2:15.”

Me: (rushing) “What I’m asking is: When are all the buses gone?”

Turns out they would be gone by 2:45.

I have no idea if the receptionist realized that waiting possibly three additional seconds for me to finish the first sentence would have refined the search and sped up the phone call. I doubt it. People who use the word “Again” that way think you are the one who is not listening. “Again” is meant to refresh the page.

If you google, you will not find any psychology articles about the “conversational googlist” since I just made up the term but you will find marketing articles that indicate the phenomenon. Marketers are master psychologists. If you can understand people, you can sell to them. Several of the traits which lead to conversational googlism are outlined in an article titled, Personality Traits of Millennials: How to Market to this Generation by the marketing firm, Morris Creative Group. See if they match my two examples.

  • “They are the first generation to grow up digesting and assimilating mass quantities of information at a time.” Therefore it is a challenge to keep their attention.
  • They are “browsers not buyers.” Click. Refine search. Click away.
  • “Millennials want to reach a decision fast and on their own terms.” This has to work for me and it has to work five seconds ago.
  • They are “advice seekers” which is to say review seekers. Who else has tried the
    product/experience and can tell me what the pros and cons are.
  • “They are not afraid to go for what they want, and are very direct in their means of doing so.”

I am not here to condemn an entire generation, especially one in which most of my kids were born, because to point the finger at them would be to point three more back at myself as a parent. I am here to diagnose the problem and propose the treatment.

We know, because Jesus said so, that we are supposed to treat other people the way we want to be treated and because Dale Carnegie said that if we didn’t they wouldn’t like us. This means listening to people.

Listening looks passive however it is anything but. It sometimes requires an active interior battle.

I know because I am one, who by nature, would rather people just get on with it already. One thing that always helps me – while Grandpa looks for the photo album, and then his glasses, and then waves his index finger around in front of the photos so that you cannot see them anyway – is to expect it.

Yes, this is all about expectations. By that I don’t mean expecting to be annoyed; I mean expecting to serve the person you are talking to and consider it time well spent. That means expecting Grandpa time to be about Grandpa and customer service to be about serving the customer.

As we close this episode of Homeschool Impossible, let’s resolve to teach our kids to be good listeners. Good listening takes patience, which last time I checked my 1500 page Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, was a virtue.

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This article first appeared in The Latin Mass Magazine, July 2019.

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