This question, along with developing for IE6, bothers me. A lot. I dislike this question because most of the time I hear it, it is a disingenuous offhand remark when the actual words would suggest a real sort of empathy.

Think back to your day. How many times have you been asked this question (or asked it yourself)? Think back to the number of times this has elicited more than a one word response. “How are you” today is less of a question and more like the human equivalent of an ICMP request.

“How are you?”

The lady at the cash register as she takes your order and hopes you don’t slow down her lane.

“How are you?”

The colleague at work who passes you in the hallway and is already walking out of earshot before you can start on the response.

“How are you?”

“Good”

Despite the semantics of the words in play, “How are you” does not mean that the other person wants to know how you are. The customs of our times have turned this phrase into the social equivalent of brushing your teeth - a rote act of habit with no thought behind the operation.

This is a great tragedy because when asked genuinely, “how are you” is one of our best tools of understanding one another.

And that’s what it comes down to (for me): understanding others. Empathy. Not at the shallow 150 character level but a “I care for you and want to know how you are” kind of deal. Sure, social media has everyone sharing everything all the time but the majority of these things are but surface level details. The things that are hard to say remain so - this is best illustrated by one of my favorite XKCD comics:

So the key takeaway from all this: next time you ask someone how they are, please be sure not to be walking past them in the hallway as you do so.