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Life

Kind of strange

Kitty Finstad
Oversharing online has turned screen life into a digital love-in. So why do spontaneous expressions of kindness feel so weird when there’s eye contact involved?

Have you noticed what’s been happening on the internet? I don’t mean the trolling, the cats or everything George Takei posts. I mean the explosion in niceness. With every like, follow, retweet, share and ‘heart’, we’re all out there geeing each other up, showing support and just generally being nice – often to complete strangers – all the time.

More’s the pity then that this gentle current of ‘fingertip caring’ rarely carries over into good old 3D real life. Why is it that we share the love online without a second thought but can barely be bothered to acknowledge each other on the street, the bus, the shop – wherever there’s an opportunity for authentic human interaction?

We urban dwellers are, of course, eternally ‘busy’. Ask any of your friends how they are and invariably the answer is: “Oh, you know, BUSY! Work, work, work, kids, parents, dog, stuff… BUSY!”

This, of course, is the standard excuse trotted out for not having returned a call or text or email, reciprocated a dinner party invitation, or rescheduled a lunch date (let me pause here to calculate my current guilt quotient – I’ve been BUSY!). But these are just everyday bare-minimum expectations – the sorts of behaviours that should not exactly be taken for granted, but which don’t necessarily cause the same kind of awesome love wave that results from seeing your new profile picture liked by 100-plus of your nearest and dearest. So how do we replicate that glowy good feeling when there’s not a screen between the receiver and the bestower of the affirmation?

Once upon a bus…

As all stories with happy endings begin, a chance encounter with a handsome stranger can be just the thing for inspiring a new perspective and turning our navel-focused gaze towards some simple, elegant, life-affirming niceness IRL (that’s webspeak for ‘In Real Life’).

Here’s one. A voice popped up beside me on my morning bus journey to work. ‘Excuse me,’ said someone, somewhere. ‘I really like your outfit.’ So when I realised the voice was coming from right next to me and in fact directed at me, I woke up from my silent list-making and made eye contact with a stranger on the bus – something Londoners simply don’t do. Ever.

Thin-slicing the scenario, I worked out quickly that the smiling and stylishly attired gentleman who was admiring my ensemble (it was a good ‘un) was neither a psychopath nor a leering pervert. Just a chic dude with a great haircut and a good suit.

So I said so, returning the compliment. Out loud. On a bus. To a stranger. In London. Almost transgressive.

We proceeded to have a cheerful, mutually appreciative chat about personal style and individuality and the importance of good shoes. Not exactly serious stuff, but a jolly nice way to start the day.

The point? Because it felt good. And honest. And it was surprisingly easy to do. It would have been just as easy for Mr Good Suit to have kept his sartorial opinion on my navy cape to himself, but following through with a face-to-face ‘like’ meant I felt like a million dollars all day – much longer-lasting than a thumbs-up from Facebook. Nice.

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