Please watch the following video. It made me stop and reflect. I hope it does the same for you too.
Joe’s Perspective: Please understand that society didn’t have this issue 20 years ago. This is a new phenomenon. People used to go into public places and routinely start conversations… with complete strangers. They would make eye contact, smile, ask questions, make small talk, laugh, engage. This was normal and expected. There were always shy people and rude people, but indulging in pleasant conversation was the norm.
This video demonstrates that people think you are weird if you say hi or start a conversation today. What was once normal is now considered strange. Phones and social media are the main reasons for this 180. People would rather engage with “friends” on social media than connect with people right in front of them. I think we have lost out as a result.
I tell the following personal story in some of my presentations. Twenty years ago, I was a graduate student who majored in marriage and family therapy. When I went on planes, the person sitting next to me would almost always initiate a conversation. People would inevitably ask what I do for a living. When I responded, they would tell me about their rotten marriage or their disrespectful kids or their crazy Uncle Larry. Two hours later, I knew their entire family history. I got to the point where I would lie about my occupation. I would say, “chemical engineer” when asked. No one ever had anything to say to a chemical engineer and I would be able to read my book.
Today, there is no need to make up such lies. I can’t remember the last time I spoke more than 10 words to someone on a plane or in a restaurant. As soon as I sit down, people immediately take out their phones, put in the earphones and make it completely obvious that they don’t engage in uncomfortable talk with someone new. No sir. No real conversations happen today. We talk about diversity and diversity of thought, but it seems we are afraid to talk with someone who might have a differing opinion. In my book, it’s all sad.
Before you go off thinking that these are the ravings of a middle-aged man, consider the studies on individual happiness. Before the cell phone craze (early 2,000’s) or the social media craze (about 2010), people reported that they were much happier. They were less depressed, stressed and anxious. What’s changed? I think we don’t talk to people anymore. We keep our thoughts to ourselves. We isolate ourselves by choice. We write mean things on Facebook. We harbor unsubstantiated un-truths about people we don’t know. By not engaging in small talk with someone from a different walk of life, we can keep our stereotypes about “those” people. None of this is healthy.
Truth is, I have changed too. I don’t feel comfortable starting a conversation in a public place anymore. I rarely make eye contact and I almost never give a simple, “hi.” Not sure why. I used to be so outgoing. I guess I’ve been socialized to keep to myself. I too take out my phone. I ignore people. Next time you are in a waiting room, at a restaurant, or standing in line, you might want to try putting your phone away and engaging the person next to you. Like these people in the video, you might find you like it.
Your Turn: On a scale of 1-10, rate yourself on your comfort level of starting a face-to-face conversation with a stranger? Explain.