Have you ever been on your long commute to work on the subway? You’ve probably been fiddling on your phone or listening to music, right? When riding the subway we never acknowledge who is riding it with us nor take the time to introduce ourselves to someone. Sometimes it can be intimidating when strange people ride it but one may never know if they’re sitting next to a high school classmate or your cousin’s best friend.
It’s a sad reality that we have lost our desire to avoid interacting with other human beings because there’s much to be gained from talking to the stranger standing by you. But you wouldn’t know it, plugged into your phone. Everyone sends the message: “Please don’t approach me.”
My question is why must we feel the need to hide ourselves behind our phone screen? Why is it so hard to stop playing Candy Crush and introduce ourselves to the person sitting next to us?
One answer is fear, according to Jon Wortmann, executive mental coach and author of “Hijacked by Your Brain: How To Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over,” We fear rejection, or that our innocent social advances will be misinterpreted as “creepy,” he told The Huffington Post. We fear we’ll be judged. We fear we’ll be disruptive.
Strangers are unfamiliar to us, so we are more likely to feel anxious when communicating with them compared with our friends. To avoid this anxiety, we turn to our phones. “Phones become our security blanket,” Wortmann says. “They are our happy glasses that protect us from what we perceive is going to be more dangerous.”
In one 2011 experiment, behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder asked commuters to do the unthinkable: Start a conversation. The duo had Chicago train commuter talk to their fellow passengers. “When Dr. Epley and Ms. Schroeder asked other people in the same train station to predict how they would feel after talking to a stranger, the commuters thought their ride would be more pleasant if they sat on their own,” the New York Times summarizes. Though the participants didn’t expect a positive experience, after they went through with the experiment, “not a single person reported having been snubbed.”
I am confident that everyone can agree that talking to other people can relieve quite a bit of stress. Starting a conversation about something you love, say coffee for example, can take your mind off that 2 – hour Prezi presentation you have to give in front of your company that day. Certainly listening to your favorite song on your iPod, Pompeii by Bastille will make you happy and filled with good spirits.
But what’s better? Listening to Pompeii, which you can listen to 20 times during the day? Or starting that conversation with the person next to you that you may never see again? That person for all we know might be the foot in the door to a well rewarding job.
Take all of this into consideration, and on your next subway ride be that guy and make a new friend.