It's the social web's fault.
Working three days a week in New York these days, I frequently eat dinner by myself at the bar of decent restaurants in Soho and the city's various 'villages', surrounded by well-dressed, young and attractive — and one assumes somewhat successful — men and women spending their evenings together.
Although my attention is invariably on a book, I can't help hearing their conversations, or parts of it anyway. Besides the appalling fact that they often talk to each other while staring at their smartphones (YOU'RE NOT THAT IMPORTANT SO STOP IT!), I get troubled by the utter blandness and superfluity of the conversation. They talk about the vacuous (reality TV), fashion (endlessly boring comments about who bought what where) and others who may be 'friends' but by virtue of not being there are the subject of catty, even vicious, assessment and not an ounce of empathy in sight.
I haven't overheard a conversation yet that I would care to be part of, or from which I could learn anything.
Am I noticing a growing gap in numbers between people who talk in a well-informed way about ideas and those preoccupied with the gratuitous and the fashionable? Am I being curmudgeonly again?
I fear it may be the social web's fault. It may be reinforcing the sense that the superfluous has value because others notice it, and that self-branding — especially in its most egregious form the 'selfie' — is somehow a constructive way to spend your life.
There I've said it: Not everything about the social web advances community or culture.