Tuesday, April 16, 2024



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I am too talkative, some say. Like, on the Metro train I start talking with a total stranger, a woman with a child.  By the time she gets down in her stop I know that she is a homemaker, worked in a school before marriage and is now itching to get back just waiting for the child to grow up a little but also worries if she waits too long the opportunities would get fewer as new batches of aspirants come up.

When I take a cycle rickshaw ride, by the time I reach the destination I know from which village the rickshawala has come, where is his family, what is his view about the  current crop of politicians, and so on. The final goodbye from him ‘Didi bhalo thakben- keep well sister’ makes me feel happy.

So I talk with strangers, with friends and members of the extended family to keep in touch. Eyebrows are raised sometimes and I also receive at times not-so-subtle hints that I talk a little more than necessary.

But I have my own take on it. With eyes glued on the cell phone screen people are losing touch with small talk. An elderly person I was travelling with in a bus confided that he felt isolated when he looked around the passengers. Young men and women with headphones listening to something or the other, display irritation when asked something because  they have to take off their ear buds. Older people also have taken to checking messages all the time.

But seriously, are we losing human communication skills because we do not talk but depend on technology to give company? At the dining table, in restaurants. Have you noticed couples, married apparently, sitting across from each other in a posh eatery and not talking to each other but checking their mobile phone, until  the food arrives? I have, and feel sorry for their ‘incommunicability’.

Elizabeth Dunn and Ryan Dwyer, two researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada, also noticed many couples like these and commented, “You see people in restaurants all the time who are sitting across the table from each other, and instead of staring at each other, they’re staring at their phones.” So, says Dwyer, a psychology student, “We were really curious: Is it having an impact on people’s social interactions, how much they’re enjoying the time they’re spending with other people?

In the new social milieu, words like ‘phubbing’ (snubbing someone you’re talking to by looking at a cell phone) are emerging. Research finds that it may be hurting your relationships. “Ironically, phubbing is meant to connect you, presumably, with someone through social media or texting,” says Emma Seppälä, a psychologist at Stanford and Yale universities and author of the Happiness Track. “But it actually can severely disrupt your present-moment, in-person relationships.”

Many studies have shown that people get distracted by using their phones. Doing things like talking on the phone, checking a phone, or texting while talking to someone can interfere with face-to-face interactions. This leads to weaker social interactions in person.

The art of making small talk with co-passengers is fast fading and it’s impacting our mental health, is an observation by a study by two psychologists at Amity University in Kolkata’s New Town, Auditi Pramanik and Soma Saha. They conducted a review project on the subject. The study notes that when such basic interactions wane, individuals indeed feel lonely in a crowd. This can exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety. “There’s mounting evidence that chronic loneliness can lead to more severe health issues, including cardiovascular diseases and impaired cognitive function such as memory disturbances,” says Saha.

“By losing these opportunities for casual conversations, even with strangers, we’re losing out on valuable cognitive stimulation, which is essential for mental acuity and long-term brain health.

“Striking a balance between solitude and sociability might just be the key to a healthier, happier commuting experience,” she says.

As for myself, I do it my way- like the lines from the famous song- keep the conversation going. I have gained, not lost- making friends, getting help on the street by kind souls in a strange land  Once my son  asked me why don’t I follow the Google map to find locations while travelling alone in a new land;  I said people are my best Google map, ready to help when I lose my way. It needs only a few words, after all.  (TWF)


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