Thought of the Day

Offline Conversations with Strangers

Over the weekend I went over to Queens to record an episode of The Ramblings Podcast with my homegirl Dimelsa. While taking the 7 train to her place, I noticed most if not all the passengers in my car were preoccupied in one way or another by their phones. Shock and awe, amirite? Well, apparently there is a quiet, but steady uprising of people who are *GASP* willing to have conversations with strangers.

So a couple stops before I get off the train, a woman hops on and sits beside me. She does a once over of the car and, I can only assume, also notices everyone entranced by palm-sized electronic devices. Suddenly she turns to that and says, “How’s your Saturday going?” We then went on to have a pleasant, but brief conversation about her doing volunteer work to help clean graffiti in Queens. And then I got off at my stop. No obligations. No awkwardness. Just a sincere “have a nice day” and nothing more.

Imagine that.

I get it, man; not everyone is into the idea of engaging people they don’t know (New Yorkers are particularly aloof about strangers, possibly because of the population density. Or the tap water. Who knows what side effects it has sans a filter?). Thing is, casual interactions help build a feeling of… I dunno… community. Sure, social networks are communities in a sense, but they come with a few “perks” that make them less appealing than offline social circles:

  1. Genuine conversations are harder to have on social networks unless you can boil most of your thoughts down to emoji, memes, GIFs, selfies, hashtags, and/or short character limits.
  2. Social networks bring out people’s narcissism meaning the emphasis is less on interaction and more on the amount of attention one receives.
  3. It’s tough for a troll to stay anonymous in-person. Unless they’re wearing a mask. Then it’s either Halloween or they’re a burglar/serial killer. Hopefully the former purely due to the off-chance of getting some em effing candy. And by candy I mean the best candy ever: peanut butter cups. What was I talking about again?
  4. In real life, you will rarely run into people either pretending to be your friend while trying to sell you something, or just outright trying to spamming you with offers you don’t care about. With copious amounts of hashtags to boot. Delicious, delicious hashtags. I can’t lie, I’ve done the same. But never have I ever seen a person walking down the street only to have someone run up to them and yell, “Want more followers? Follow and like me!” Although now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind seeing that. Such is my sense of humor.

None of these things occur 100% of the time, but I’ve observed them enough times to know they’re not rarities.

Anyway… It was nice talking to a stranger. That sounds like totally the wrong lesson to teach an impressionable youth, but as an adult, it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t a life changing moment, but it still felt more significant than the empty-calorie entertainment I get from swiping away at my mobile device. I’ll save that for my bathroom breaks, thank you.

Peace out, party people.

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