Imagine this scenario: You're at a gala affair, say a wedding. Across the crowded room, you see a person you must speak to - a potential friend/employer/suitor. You make your way over to the conversational floret in which the object of your desire is ensconced and attempt to join the conversation. After the appropriate introductions are made, the person you are interested in impressing says, "Why don't we ask our new friend? Maybe you know how I can make an avocado get softer faster."
Implausible? I think not. You never know what people are going to be interested in, so you have to be prepared for lots of possibilities. Like avocados. Most of us would call the pursuit of such knowledge trivial, but as anyone who has been stuck at a long wedding knows, witty conversationalists who can keep the chat from going too stale are absolutely essential to maintaining participants' sanity. And with wedding/graduation/ anniversary/summer party season coming up, it's time to get prepared.
How? Well, you could pick out topics you're interested in and bone up on them by reading books, searching out Internet sites and spending time and effort to get smart enough to carry on a conversation. Or, you could check out sites like Yahoo Answers (http://answers.yahoo.com/), where thousands of operators are standing by to answer your questions - and supply you with grist for the conversational mill - for free.
Yep - instant isn't just for coffee anymore. Now, you can get insight into all sorts of topics, from the scientific to the silly, by searching question-and-answer sites. You can post questions, but chances are someone has already asked the same question or a very similar one - so all you have to do is put the term or idea you're interested in on the search line to access a treasure trove of the human experience.
Yahoo Answers isn't the only place to find the answers to those burning questions. Microsoft's Q and A (http://qna.live.com/) has q and a's on all kinds of subjects, not just computers. And a new service, called Yedda (http://yedda.com/), purports to have better answers than the other two, saying that it's better moderated.
The problem with these sites, say critics, is that they're free - in that anyone who answers a question is not remunerated for his or her effort. There's no incentive to come up with "good" answers, critics say, and lots of the people who do answer have an agenda or are just idiots. The only place to get reliable information is from a "professional" q-and-a service - like Google Answers (http://answers.google.com/answers/), which is no longer in business, but paid for the best answers (the answered questions remain on the site for anyone to check).
Whatever site you use, just make sure you don't overdo the chat. Nobody likes a bore!