PP1: The Horror in Talking to Strangers

Black and white photo of a woman scared with seven eyes watching behind her

Kabata, K. (2019). Mental Illness : Anxiety [Online image]. DeviantArt. https://www.deviantart.com/kabatart/art/Mental-Illness-Anxiety-786374007

Please check out the artist’s page linked here 🙂 -> https://www.deviantart.com/kabatart/gallery

I get bored very easily. It’s the main reason I don’t have a hard time making friends in class. However, I have determined that my willingness to talk to strangers depends on my own personal mood and the environment. I consider myself as an introvert and extrovert with different people at different times, but will be introverted in general, especially when I’m alone.

This week in our Publishing 101 class, we were given the challenge to talk to a complete stranger and analyze how it differs from our online interactions. At first, this seemed pretty terrifying to me, since I only like socializing in a classroom or work-related environment. I hate talking to people I have no-relation to or have a mutual relation with (meaning that I know of someone, for example a friend of a friend, but I actually haven’t met them formally face-to-face.

On average, I assume that people just don’t want to talk to random people in public. The thought of having to make someone uncomfortable by talking to me is kind of terrifying. I only think this way because it has happened to me waiting for the bus on many different occasions. Author, James Hamblin from The Atlantic, explains this through the term civil inattention, which was created by the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman (2016). In summary, civil inattention is when people act civilized towards one another but are not attentive at the same time (Hamblin, 2016). For example, choosing not to laugh out loud when reading a funny book in a public library would be an example of civil inattention.

Luckily, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and approach a stranger at the bus stop. Here is how the conversation went:

Little Horrors: Hi I like your jacket. Where did you get them?

Stranger: Oh, thank you, its from China.

Little Horrors: Oh, it’s very nice looking haha. Thank you for letting me know. Have a good day.

Stranger and Little Horrors: both walk away awkwardly

That encounter was completely forced and I would have never done it sincerely if it was not for my publishing 101 course. However, it made me re-think my whole entire approach and I began to question that entire question in my head. “Was it obvious that I was being insincere?”, “Did I sound creepy?”, “Did I stare at her too long?”, “Was that question too invasive for her?”, “Did I smell okay?”, “Did my breathe sound day?”, “Did I potentially fuck up and she thinks I’m a total weirdo now?”. These fears and questions that appeared in my head after that entire interaction showed me the horror in talking to strangers.

Strangely enough, I noticed that these questions don’t (or have ever) appeared in my head when talking to strangers online. I loved hiding behind a screen while pretending to be someone else. It adds to the thrill of talking to strangers or friends online. The people you talk to don’t know how you look or smell the day you talk to them online. Conversations online can also go on for long periods of time since people will often take awhile to respond to you, compared to the real-life interaction I had where it forced me to put the conversation to a halt because I wanted to leave and didn’t have time to continue (I had to catch a class).

However, I find myself often forgetting what people looking like when I talk to them through text. I guess that’s the benefit of talking to people in-person. But that also means I would have to put effort into my appearance as well. Hiding behind a screen gives people like me security. Otherwise, the fear of being judged for my appearance will always take a toll on myself and will continue this fear of being judged, unless the person I’m talking to shows somewhat of an interest in me.

Maybe one day I will get over my fears of talking to strangers in an off environment. For now, I will choose to be introverted everywhere I go in public.

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