Speak up around strangers, or miss out on social connection

Sunday morning, I left Geneseo at 9:30 a.m. bound for the Rochester airport. My good friend Chris was up at that ungodly hour and very graciously drove me. I arrived at Manhattan College in the Bronx at 2:30 p.m. Chris was the last person I talked to.

When I got to the airport, I used the little automated terminal to check myself in and have my boarding pass spit at me. The security lady waved me through the scanner, I nodded and, after putting my shoes back on (no bombs! Imagine that.), I wandered to the gate, sat down and got on the plane when instructed.

I got off in the same manner and hopped my way across four different trains that took me on a tour of New York's fabulous boroughs. In all that time, surrounded always by people, I never said a word to anyone.

That seems pretty pathetic to me. Right now I'm on the subway, continuing my numbing silence in the company of other, equally silent people. I'm relatively certain that if I tried to strike up a conversation with the gentleman next to me, he would summarily stab me for my impertinence. Granted, he's also got a rubber hose tied around his left arm, which is pretty track-marked, so at least he'd have a reason to be angry.

A girl across the row from me is reading T. S. Eliot. I love Eliot. Eliot is in fact my favorite poet. Will I mention this? Perish the thought. Will I even make eye contact with her? Only accidentally.

And that, I think, is probably one of the biggest problems with the world today: we cannot talk to strangers. It's not that we don't know how, it's that we are expected not to.

We expect our governments to be diplomatic and welcoming; how can we assume they will be if we can't even summon the aplomb to talk to the pretty girl on the cross-town train?

We're hooked up, plugged in, checked out and doped up so often and with such overwhelming intensity that what ends up happening is that we forget how to deal with actual people.

The worst part is, the less we have to deal with people, the more difficult it is when we end up cornered into a conversation or some other preferred-to-be-avoided interaction. How many of us saw Inglorious Basterds and thought, at the end, "Wow, that was a lot of dialogue. But it was so awesome!"

It's probably because we miss talking. There's instant messengers and Facebook chat, but they eliminate all the little facial tics that every good person has. Text? Phone call? Sure thing! But again, there's something about the physical presence of, the temporal interaction with another human being that really makes a conversation worth it.

We're social creatures, let's embrace that. I'll be off to talk to the pretty girl who's reading Eliot.

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