I've noticed that this handy (if lazy) drinks-party conversation-stoker is rapidly becoming useless.
And I don't just mean when women are concerned (where merely to pose the question is to burden oneself with unwelcome value judgements), but with anyone at all: because nowadays the answer is increasingly likely to be impossible to understand.
One of my cycling friends (who doesn't know I have a blog and about whom, therefore, I can write with impunity) is a brand consultant.
"Ah, you mean like designing a logo"
"No, I would get a design firm to do that"
"but you'd be involved"
"well yes, but..."
"like Cayce Pollard ? Cool"
"There's rarely a new logo involved actually. It's normally more to do with establishing the company's brand values in a paradigm that makes sense for the shareholders, the staff and the customer"
"Is that a new wicking base layer I can see through your ventilated armpit holes?"
I'm only joking, of course: I know perfectly well what he does: He helps small companies establish their brand values into er, well, stuff like that. But what does that actually involve when he sits down at his desk in the morning? Apart from booking lunch, obviously. And working on tax returns, what with him being self-employed.
Last year I went to a reunion at my old college. In that environment S,WDYD isn't so much risky as positively dangerous. I know that. However, unable to invent suitable conversational alternatives in the intimidating atmosphere of the SCR, I allowed myself several times to be violently snubbed around the back of the head.
"Oh, I help companies leverage multi-functional pan-regional diversity policies"
"I'm basically a freelance quant, well more of a modeller really"
"I work in innovation"
"I no longer work in paid employment, I care for my children; do you have some kind of problem with that, you arsehole'
OK, I made up the second one; but you can understand the enthusiasm with which I embraced my neighbour at dinner when he turned out to be a vet. And also his surprise.
At this stage I should fess up: I too have a indescribable job. Consequently, I dread being asked what I do by well-meaning conversationalists. What can one say?
- "You wouldn't understand what I do" sadly, is probably the truth, but clearly too patronising to use in circumstances other than having just previously been called an arsehole.
- "Nobody can understand what I do" is probably equally close (and I don't exclude people who work in the same firm) but does makes me sound misleadingly like Stephen Hawking.
- "I don't understand what I do" is at least good for a laugh (but unwise, I have found, with people who work in the same firm) .
So I usually just mumble and change the subject.
Under close questioning I get hot and bothered and open my armpit ventilation holes
But my point (and I am coming to one) is this: I have started to notice that many people do just the same as me. No, not the unzipping silly - the embarrassed evasion. In other words : it's a not a topic that people talk about so much anymore.
I think this is going to have quite a big impact: we're heading for a paradoxical world where it is easier and easier to connect with like-minded people you don't know, but harder and harder to connect with the people we meet in 'real' life. If you can't picture what someone does all day, you can't know them.
And if we can no longer be defined by our jobs (because no one understands them) then how?
By our blogs?
As Homer Simpson once said "Marge, If I wasn't a safety thingummy then I don't know who I'd be"