I Miss Talking To Strangers

I remember the first time our family got a touchscreen. It was an early GPS model (the kind you had to buy map updates for), but I was too young to drive, so what stood out to me was the touchscreen. I’d seen Star Trek, so I knew what to do. I just never guessed that I would live to see the day when McDonalds had more touchscreens than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Screens for ordering, screens for keeping children entertained at the tables, screens for displaying menus, and don’t forget the personal communication devices everyone carries everywhere. Captain Kirk would be impressed.

But where are the employees? I can’t see them anymore because they were put behind walls and the counter is a tiny short thing, basically just a collection point. All this technological progress means that I can order, eat, and leave without having to talk to anyone. It’s the same at the bank. I used to make a regular trip to the bank, and got to the point that I looked forward to seeing the tellers who became my friends. Then they introduced an app, and I started doing most of my banking from home. These days even when I do go in person I wait in the queue just to push buttons on a row of screens and, just like McDonald’s, I can come and go without saying a word. I could go on about the self-service tills at the grocery store, or how we can order our food from a screen at home and have it delivered, but you already know about that. All this convenience is nice, and has it’s obvious advantages, but I can’t help feeling like it’s robbed me of something.

I miss talking to strangers.

Even if it was just about burgers or bank notes or the weather (it was always about the weather), there’s a warmth and goodness in the simple act of conversation that I never noticed until it was gone. The machines are efficient, yes, but they’re cold. You can’t look them in the eye, or commiserate together about the rain, or wish them a good weekend. You can’t get to know them over months and weeks and years, and end up friends like I did with the bank tellers. I miss the bank tellers. I miss talking with them about holidays and how shocking the weather is. For that matter, I just miss talking. I miss being forced to communicate with other humans. If you don’t have to talk, it becomes impolite to break the silence. So we sit on the train, stand in the queue at the bank, wait for our orders at McD’s, and look at our personal communication devices instead of communicating with the living, breathing humans all around us.

I like my phone. I use it for banking.

But I really do miss talking to strangers.

10 thoughts on “I Miss Talking To Strangers”

  1. Seth,

    You are a great writer! (And, for that matter, so is Jessica.) God has given you a gift for expressing meaningful concepts in ways that engage, entertain, and provoke thoughtful contemplation in the reader. I look forward to reading each new blog posting.

    “Onward, Christian soldiers!”

    Johnny

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  2. My problem is a bit different with me being retired and not able to drive, I miss the short but sweet chats in the grocery line or at the post office or in the elevator, etc. But these days I only get a few seconds with a busy medical practitioner here and there. Even the person from the library’s home-bound service insists that I get my pick-ups and deliveries outside the door as they have no time. I don’t know what they are missing, perhaps the loss is all mine. Great article… people are fascinating.

    Eino

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    1. Eino, thanks very much for sharing your experience. The loss is not only yours – it is theirs as well, and a loss for our whole culture when we stop having time to interact with each other. Thanks for taking time to interact here!

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  3. Yes! I recently read Digital Minimalsim by Cal Newport and he deals some with the societal changes due to technology- lack of real social interactions being one of them. It is rather freeing to get back to talking to strangers again. Might even revive real evangelism.

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  4. I admit, one of the main reasons I got a smartphone years ago was for the map feature. But that eliminates yet another simple, but age-old social interaction: asking others for directions.

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  5. You should use Uber more often. The drivers literally refuse to stop talking. By the time the ride is over, you’ll really come to appreciate the value of silence.

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  6. I just never guessed that I would live to see the day when McDonalds had more touchscreens than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

    Lol, this is hilarious! 🙂

    but I can’t help feeling like it’s robbed me of something.

    I miss talking to strangers.

    You went from hilarious humor to pointed profundity! That takes consummate skill. I appreciated your post!

    Like

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