Stranger Danger on the Rude Tube

Experience Planners Jack Payne and Tom Belt ponder what’s going on behind London’s hatred of the idea of #tube_chat in the first of a series of #onehourblogposts aimed at investigating and offering possible solutions to ‘problems’ that #grindyourgears.

Start the clock.

Yesterday an ‘outsider’ thought he could change London. He tried to implement something outrageous. He tried something life-changing. He tried to encourage people to talk to each other on the tube.

People were quick to talk, but the conversation was mostly people’s outrage at the idea on social channels#tube_chat

We actually quite like the idea, and have definitely had some interesting conversations in the past with strangers, but maybe we could look at different ways of executing it?

We think a lot of the negative comments were because ‘TFL’ were trying to change the status quo. Commuting is one of the only constants in our day-to-day lives and although most of us dread it, we know what we’re getting and we go about it almost subconsciously. An ‘organisation’ (although it ultimately proved not to be) suggesting we change this scares us. We understand that. But sometimes change is good…

Look at the tube strikes for instance — people braced themselves for the worst and everyone was fearing the day (apart from cab drivers), with even ad campaigns jumping on the idea that people would have to change their commuting behaviour, but in fact it had a positive impact on some. People found new routes, people shared cabs with strangers, the use of Boris bikes doubled. The new routes people found were often better than their traditional routes, with 1 in 20 people sticking with the new commute when the strikes were over.

People were again willing to talk, but mostly negatively about the tube strike. We feel more confident when we’re talking to the world but from the perceived safety behind a screen, and do we now prefer a ‘retweet’ and a ‘like’ to a smile and a “thank you”. Has the idea of ‘stranger danger’ affected our confidence when speaking to people face-to-face? Or is the fear of the ‘awkward silence’ too overpowering? There’s an overall acceptance that people don’t talk to each other on the tube — headphones on, looking out of the window into the super-interesting black tunnel outside…

But could we actually achieve more by talking to people we don’t know?

Studies have actually shown that there are numerous benefits to face-to-face contact such as being crucial for learning, happiness, resilience and longevity. But more interestingly to us it could be a great way to introduce mutual respect and become an antidote to fear. Author Kio Stark states:

“There’s so much hatred going around in so many directions, so much suspicion of people who aren’t like us. There is this tiny thing that everyone can do, which is spend more time getting to know people who aren’t like us and try to understand what it’s like to really be them. That extends your empathetic abilities, complicates your thinking about political situations and gives you more nuanced conversations. It’s not an abstract group of people; it’s someone you’ve had experiences with.”

There’s also a fear of change at play with #tube_chat: Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. says:

“The bottom line is, unconsciously we all believe that longevity = goodness. There are, admittedly, plenty of instances where this is perfectly rational. When a particular product or way of doing things has stood the test of time, it is probably superior to alternatives in at least some respects.”

So taking all this into account, how could we actually encourage interaction between strangers beyond digital without provoking outrage? (Remember we’ve only had an hour for this whole post!).

  • ‘Loud coaches’ where people are open for a chat.
  • ‘Chat seats’ next to the priority seats where people are open to discussion.
  • ‘Conversation starters’ in place of some advertising… “What’s the person next to you having for dinner tonight?”, “Does the person opposite know any good bars on the Central Line?”, “Is the person looking at the map a bit lost?”

Ok, time’s up. We’ve hit 56 minutes and need to wrap this up — let us know your thoughts in the comments below, hit us up / moan at us @thisisdare (ironic eh) — or just come in for a chat?!

Stop the clock.