Tube Chat Badges – Why Bother? What Is The Point?

Tube Chat Badges have been making the headlines recently! So I thought I’d do a blog to let you know more about them and the idea behind them!

The Tube Chat Badges

The Tube Chat Badges were recently given out by Jonathan Dunne, a NHS worker who is originally from Colorado.

The badges were given out to London Tube commuters, so that they could signal that they were up for a chat. A leaflet was also given out to let people know what the badges were about, letting commuters know to wear them if they fancied a chat. Jonathan gave these badges out to try and reduce the barriers people seem to have put up against talking to strangers in London.

Unfortunately the badges had a bit of a frosty reception. Commuters in a rush didn’t want to know. It wasn’t the friendly, social experience Jonathan imaged it would be. There was no real plan to giving them out, but this won’t stop Jonathan trying again!

Tube Chat Badges are very similar to an idea from a company called ‘Talk To Me’. This company has had many ideas to try to encourage people to talk to each other.

A Bit About Talk To Me

The idea of Talk To Me was thought of during the London 2012 Olympics. During this time people were united by a common interest and strangers actually spoke to each other!

In 2012 London was voted second to last in a study of friendliness of cities! Not good! The unfriendliness of people in London could lead to people feeling isolated, which can even affect people’s health and wellbeing. A recent report showed that 52% of Londoners feel lonely, which is obviously not a good thing! This makes London the loneliness city in the UK.

Over the last five years Talk To Me has tried to encourage the people of London to talk to each other. And it’s been more than just Tube Chat Badges! They have tried pop up talking bars, invited strangers to dine with each other and more.

Talk To Me believe that talking to each other will help to make the world a better place. There mission is to change the way people think about talking to strangers and encourage more people to have conversations with strangers.

It’s Good To Talk Report

Talk To Me have done a report about why people don’t talk, why this is bad and what the solutions are. Here is my overview on the report, but feel free to read the It’s Good To Talk Report in full!

What’s So Bad About Not Talking To Each Other?

Research shows that people are becoming more isolated. This has led to reports of increasing loneliness, in people of all ages. There is clear evidence that loneliness, wellbeing, community and belonging are all connected. Having low social interactions (low social capital) has been linked to ill health.

It’s good to talk. Most people associate talking with close friends and families, these are ‘strong ties’. This type of tie has been associated with social connectedness and wellbeing. There is plenty of evidence that shows that talking to these people has a positive affect. There is some evidence that talking to acquaintances or friends of friends, ‘weak ties’, also has a positive affect. Now recent studies are showing that even communication with strangers, ‘fleeting ties’, has a positive affect.

Experiments have shown that people that have a conversation with a stranger have higher levels of happiness. And it’s not just talking that’s good! Another experiment found that even simple acknowledgments, such as eye contact, has a positive impact on people’s feeling of belonging.

It is important that people feel connected and not just to their families. Even the briefest encounter has a positive effect on happiness. That is why it is a bad thing for people not to talk!

Why Don’t People Talk?

There are a number of reasons why people don’t talk to strangers. Some are external influences, some are personal barriers. Here are the reasons the report found:

External Influences

Globalisation – It’s much easier to move around nowadays. People are more mobile than in the past. Few people in big cities know their neighbours and pass many people on the street that they don’t know. Many areas in cities are also diverse, however people in these areas tend to have social groups that are similar to them. Diverse neighbourhoods does not encourage people to talk to each other.

Technology – Being able to talk via technology i.e. phones, email, social media, means that people do not have ‘real conversations’. You can present yourself how you want and rewrite. In a ‘real conversation’ you do not have that control, but have to engage more. These online connections do not have the same positive impact as face to face interactions. Research has shown that as electronic interactions have increased, face to face interactions have decreased.

Stranger Danger – For decades children in the UK (and some other countries) are told not to talk to strangers. This taught mistrust of strangers is taken into adulthood. This creates a society in which people are taught to mistrust before they trust. This also means that people need to learn how to interact later in life, when they generally have less confidence.

Urban Design – The ancients had it right. They designed cities with a ‘hub’ such as a marketplace for people to interact. This changed in the 1960s when cities began to be designed for how they looked from above, rather than from the street. The walkability of a neighbourhood also has an affect – roads negatively affect the sense of community.

Lack Of Places To Talk – The number of social clubs is declining. Social clubs are important for social interactions, you have a common interest with those in the same social club. A study suggested that because of TV, people are more likely to stay in than go out. This reduced their social interactions.

Personal Barriers

Pluralistic Ignorance – Studies have shown that people would like to talk to strangers in situations such as a waiting room or on a train. However, they do not think that other people would want to talk to them. This means that people privately reject the norm of not talking to strangers, but believe that everyone else still accepts it. So they don’t strike up a conversation.

People Don’t See The Benefit – Research has shown that people think that if they talk to strangers, it will make their commute worse. Although, people that normally talk to strangers, predict that talking will have a positive impact.

Don’t Know How – People lack the skill of being able to start a conversation. Many people say that they wouldn’t know how to do it! This could be because of ‘Stranger Danger’ and technology. People just haven’t had the practice of starting a conversation face to face with strangers.

Fear Of How The Conversation Will Go – People have a fear of the unknown, so if they have had limited experience with conversations with strangers, they worry about how it will go. Especially if the only conversations they have had have been negative experiences, such as someone trying to chat them up.

We Don’t Want To Be Judged – People worry about how others may perceive them. This could be linked to lack of confidence in starting a conversation. Talking to strangers is seen as a ‘taboo’ in society, so people don’t want to be seen to break this and maybe even be seen as being ‘weird’!

Afraid Of How The Stranger May Respond – As we don’t know how the conversation may go and how others may judge us, we don’t know how the stranger may respond. They could respond badly and embarrass us. This would be a big knock to the confidence that had to be mustered to start the conversation in the first place!

Suggested Solutions

With so many barriers in the way it is obvious that just one solution, such as Tube Chat Badges, can’t work on it’s own. There has to be a range of solutions. Here is what the report suggests:

Challenge The Norms – The public need to be educated and made aware that not talking to each other is an issue itself, and not just a factor of loneliness. In April 2014 ‘Talk To Me Day’ was launched, this was to challenge people to talk and after a report it got a lot of attention. This has helped to raise awareness, so that people know that they are not alone and encourages them to challenge the social norms.

Change Our Environment – Cities need to be designed with areas that have humans as the focus. Lots of public spaces are needed to encourage community.

Experiment In Public Space – Giving out Tube Chat Badges and organising events is not enough to get people talking – they don’t know how. People need first encounters to be engineered, such as ‘Bug Lunch’ (neighbours are encouraged to have lunch with each other). After the first encounter, people are more likely to talk when they next cross paths. Also, having these engineered encounters allows people to have a lot of positive first encounters in one go, giving them confidence to do it on their own.

Signs And Nudges – The Tube Chat Badges are a type of sign. They give people a signal that they are willing to talk. There are also other nudges, such as a sign at restaurants that you would be happy for someone to sit with you and have a chat. However, the problem with the signs and nudges is that they are passive, you have done your bit by, for example, wearing a Tube Chat Badge, so it is up to someone else to start the conversation. They only seem to work well on a small scale.

Groups And Events – Creating groups and events allow people to meet for the first time. Examples of these are Couchsurfing, Tea with Strangers, Conversation Cafes and Conversations New York. Having a different focus other than conversation also works. However, these only work for people that already know that they want to talk and are motivated enough to join an event or group.

Digital Solutions – Some apps and online medias already have the options where you can meet friends. But it is not know how successful these are yet. It may take a while to become normalised, as of yet people don’t go looking for ways to connect with strangers.

Teach People How – There are two recommendations in this suggestion. The first is that a more subtle message needs to be given to children rather than the blanket of ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’. Instead, children should be taught when to and what to do when talking to a stranger. For example, not talk to them if they are offering them a treat. The second part to this suggestion is to teach talking to strangers as a skill, as this skill has been forgotten in modern society. This should be done with adults and in schools.

My Opinion

I’m now going to do something that I tend to avoid doing on this site and actually give my ‘two-pennies worth’.

I LOVE this idea. I think it’s great. After I got past the social barrier of not talking to strangers when travelling it became a lot more fun. I have found out about places and activities that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t talked to strangers. Although I still find it hard to start conversations at times, I don’t avoid it anymore and I’ve never regretted a conversation.

I have recently began to think that telling children not to talk to strangers is wrong. What about the shopkeeper? The child they sit next to at school? The stranger that actually wants to help them when they are lost? You might as well tell them to hide in their room and never come out. I think it’d be a better if it was more of a ‘talk to strangers, but don’t trust them and stay in a public area’. And of course, ‘don’t go off with a stranger when they offer you sweets’. It is such a small proportion of strangers that would harm them, so why tar the rest of the world? It’s wrong.

Society seems to have forgotten that ‘Every Friend Was Once A Stranger’.

Although the Tube Chat Badges given out by Jonathan Dunne had a frosty reception, I think it was a big step for him to try it on his own. Unfortunately, I doubt that he can make a difference on his own. Hopefully next time he tries more people will be receptive to his idea and talking to strangers will stop being such a taboo.

However, it seems that people have so many barriers to talking to each other, that it’ll require much more than the Tube Chat Badges to get people talking.

If you want some ideas how to connect when travelling, you may want to visit How To Make Friends When Travelling Solo

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