A common theme in xkcd is social awkwardness. Oftentimes Cueball/Randall will grossly overthink casual social interactions, such as small talk.
In this comic, Cueball has prepared a note to himself, preparing for the said small talk with Hairy, but it ultimately backfires. This is very similar to the comic 1961: Interaction which came out just 5 weeks before this one. And a similar interaction between Cueball and Hairy occurs in 1917: How to Make Friends from less than half a year before this comic.
In this comic, Cueball has prepared for a conversation with Hairy, by writing an instructional note for himself. The note tells him to start the conversation by asking some questions about the other person. In theory, this is perfectly good conversational advice; unfortunately, Cueball's understanding of social interactions is so abstract that he actually has no idea what questions to ask. He hastily improvises a question about the number of apples Hairy has eaten in his lifetime, which, although it does meet the criteria suggested by the note, is not a particularly interesting or meaningful question to ask someone. Cueball realizes from Hairy's reaction that he has made a mistake, and decides to abort the interaction.
Normally, one would ask questions such as "How are you?" or "What have you been up to lately?", instead of asking random facts of someone else's life, such as "How many apples have you eaten in your life?"
The title text continues to show the flaws in Cueball's approach to social interaction, which is very systematic: he seems to trying to create some kind of reproducible methodology that he can follow in order to carry out a conversation, unaware that conversations tend to be spontaneous and do not follow rigidly defined rules. Additionally, one of the main points of conversation is to gain some understanding of the other person; by focusing on the conversation itself, Cueball is denying the very purpose of the interaction.
A slight side-joke is the list being numbered despite only containing one item, although this could imply that Cueball has other notes that he would have continued to refer to if the first one produced a successful result.
The advice to "Ask them about themselves", specifically noted as the "first thing" after introducing yourself, was promoted to overcome society anxiety in the Periscope-based videocast of Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip (see audio-only podcast ). Given Randall's personality and previous professional vocation (working with nerds at NASA and in academia), it is highly likely he would be a fan of the strip and also the creator's related works such as Adams's blog, Twitter feed, and the like. The real coincidence is the videocast in question likely occurred just a day before this comic was published; the audio was published the same day as the comic and usually delays the video by a day.
- [Cueball and Hairy meet each other.]
- Cueball: Hey!
- Hairy: Oh, hi!
- [Cueball looks down at a sticky note in his hand.]
- [The yellow sticky note reads:]
- Normal human conversation
- 1. Ask them about themselves
- [Cueball looks at Hairy.]
- Cueball: How many...apples...have you eaten?
- Hairy: ...Like, in my life?
- Cueball: Yes.
- Hairy: ...
- Cueball: ...I should go.
- Hairy: OK.
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18.104.22.168 15:57, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
>How many apples have you eaten?
IS THAT A JOJO REFERENCE? 22.214.171.124 16:22, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- Are you referring to the singer or the NY restaurant? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 19:32, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- He's referring to the manga, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. In it, Zeppeli asks Dio, "How many lives have you sucked away to heal those wounds?" Dio responds, "Do you remember how many breads you've eaten in your life?" [sic] 126.96.36.199 21:29, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- Ok, thanks. Would not have gotten that in a lifetime! Your IP addresses are very close to each other - do you two know each other, or is this particular manga more popular than one might think? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 23:01, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- It’s definitely a well known manga, with numerous internet memes spawned from it. Personally, I’m experiencing a Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon with it since Team Fortress 2 just had an update including an outfit that looks like the main character Jotaro Kujo. 188.8.131.52 04:34, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
- You thought it was Cueball, but it was me DIO!184.108.40.206 22:54, 15 September 2019 (UTC)
I can relate way too much to this comic. Then again, I bet most of us here relate to xkcd in general, and are probably logically, socially inept, nerds. Linker (talk) 17:54, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
The last one of these was published a mere 15 comics ago. I assume this is becoming some sort of satirical how-to series.
220.127.116.11 22:46, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- Nah, Randall has just returned to some of his old themes recently. Check out the categories! Oh, and should we try to get the numbers on how many apples an average guy eats in his lifetime? I fell like maybe we could just write it, as a fun fact. Herobrine (talk) 23:51, 4 April 2018 (UTC)
- As I pointed out in 1961, not so much "returning to old themes" with this topic, because he never really left it. Someone started a Social Awkwardness catagory (called "Social interactions" for some reason) after that last one, and I "quickly" zipped through all the previous comics to fill in the category. There were something like 5 in the two year "gap" there was supposed to be. :) Actually, as soon as I saw this one I rushed to ExplainXKCD to make sure this one was added, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:09, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
I would assume "Do you like apples" might be weird unless there is some apple context, but at least answerable. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:47, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
Noone else feels like this could be a reference to the - by now a few weeks old - news story in which the US president used a note on how to show human emotions to the vicitims of a massshooting? Lupo (talk) 05:26, 5 April 2018 (UTC) I feel that way as well, it was my first thought upon reading. 18.104.22.168 15:51, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
- Probably not given as the note just reminded him to show empathy, it wasn't a guide on how to handle human interactions.Mulan15262 (talk) 14:03, 7 April 2018 (UTC)
The "I should go" reminds me of Mass Effect token phrase when ending dialogues. Could that be relevant to the post? 22.214.171.124 13:07, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
I find it unlikely that Randall is referencing the highly misogynistic and socially problematic Adams in this comic, and frankly the assumption that he is indicates minimal familiarity with either author and their outside work.126.96.36.199 17:30, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
--188.8.131.52 17:30, 5 April 2018 (UTC)
and the post-it being titled "Normal Human Conversation" which implies the existence of other post-its with titles such as "Abnormal Human Conversation" or "Normal Cat Conversation".
Does it, really? If I find a recipe titled "Delicious French fries", should I expect recipes for "disgusting French fires" and "delicious Chinese fries" to be part of the book? "Abnormal" conversation presumably comes naturally to Cueball, so he does not need a note for that, and he is probably not trying to communicate with animals, so he does not need notes for that, either. Jaalenja (talk) 06:35, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
- Absolutely agree. I removed that part. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 09:25, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
Reminds me of Donald Trump's cue notes for the meeting with students after the Florida school shooting in the Middle of February. Questions were e.g. '1. What would you most want me to know about your experience' and '5. I hear you'. Personally I am glad that a politician takes an effort and prepares. He should not be publicly shamed for this situation and possible social awkwardness per se (as long as he keeps positive and friendly attitude to people, what is not always the case) and I did not like the generally disapproving public reaction to the cuesheet and the questions on it. (I am not from the US.) Sebastian --184.108.40.206 10:04, 6 April 2018 (UTC)
- Sorry, but Trump doesn't get a 'social anxiety" pass on that incident. When it comes to harassing private citizens, condemning immigrants, corporations or entire countries, races and ethnic minorities, trade pacts and trading partners, declaring who is "treasonous" or who needs to be executed, etc. he has no trouble speaking and seems to not even care what he says. The fact that he needs crib notes on how to be sympathetic and caring points to the fact that he is unfamiliar with those concepts. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 00:52, 8 April 2018 (UTC)
- I think Randall is autistic. It seems like exactly what someone with that would experience (also, in What if? he said something along the lines of "12 people is a generous estimate for me".
- There's actually a published journal article about how this comic is really about autism and recharche philosophy! Check it out: Wilkenfeld, D. A. (2019). Living with Autism: Quus-ing in a Plus-ers World. Res Philosophica, 97(1), 53-68.