What if I were to just start talking to all kinds of people on the bus? What if I just said hello to them and asked them how they were doing? What if I just smiled at them and started telling them about my day?
I ask these questions because the answer is simple: it would be weird and it would probably make most people uncomfortable.
But what the hell is that all about? Why do I need to keep to myself on the bus?
What is this about this culture that prevents me from freely talking to strangers on the bus?
I think it might have something to do with the rigid categories that we are surrounded by. On the bus, for example, two guys were talking about the video game Halo. They were just talking about how the fictional monsters in the game were very compelling to them. They found it exciting, it was a really good time for them. They enjoyed it a lot,a nd they could enjoy talking to each other and seeing how they both enjoyed it.
But what about the older guy sitting next to me? Couldn’t we enjoy talking to each other somehow? Wouldn’t there be something to talk about? Perhaps the weather, perhaps how it is Wednesday and how we are both excited to be past ‘hump day’. But that is bull shit. Not that it isn’t worthwhile. I’m a big proponent of small talk. I’ve even written about small talk, check out my post on customer service. But why couldn’t we have honest deep talk about our lives? Because we just don’t know what people are interested in.
And that is the thing. Is that people are ‘interested’ in certain ‘things’. Specific things. I’m not writing very clearly right now. But I’m trying to get at the perceived boundaries between people and how they come from social categories or from specific interests. I don’t know. Knowledge. Social knowledge separates people. Age prevents me from striking up random conversations because I assume older people lead different lives and we wouldn’t have much in common. Gender prevents me from talking to people because men are difficult to approach randomly and with women there is often weird sexual connotations lingering in the background with any randomly started conversation. And I don’t even think that has to be the case, but it is most unfortunate how gender relations are so often permeated by or traced with sexual relations.
And then everyone has their headphones on. Then I have my headphones on. It locks me into a world where only I can hear the music, where only I am there. Headphones feel solipsistic. They feel like they make a world of isolated subjectivity. They confine me.
Sometimes I see a cute girl and I want to talk to her so I take my headphones off. I just open myself up to the outside world. Because if I didn’t have my headphones off I clearly don’t want to talk. I used to think about this in college classrooms. Everyone has their headphones on, no one is talking. But what if you take your headphones on when you enter the classroom? Class doesn’t start for another 15 minutes so why aren’t you listening to your music? All these other people are still listening to their music, why aren’t you? Are you expressing your willingness to engage in conversation by removing your headphones?