45. Talking on the tube
A couple of weeks ago, I did a little poll about people not talking to each other on the tube.
I was on a tube the other day and in a whirlwind, three mysterious men jumped on and started slapping stickers on the inside walls and windows. The stickers were all different in colour but had similar messages, like “stop staring and start talking”, with a website address – http://www.talkonthetube.com (tott). I was a bit intrigued about this, and managed to catch the last man in-between stops, before he leapt off at the next station, to ask him what it was all about.
It turns out that tott is a social network for London commuters. We tend not to talk on the tube, because it's not part of the London culture, but here is a safe environment to encourage interaction.
I asked him where the idea came from and he answered, like any worthy mysterious hero, that he did it all for love...
One fateful night in December 2006, on the way home from a night out, I found myself sitting next to a lovely blonde on the tube. I noticed that, like me, she was wearing contact lenses and that her eyes were smarting in the dry air of the underground. So, buoyed by the courage that inevitably ensues after four pints of London Pride, I ventured forth this astute insight. Then for the next four minutes love blossomed, but suddenly my stop came up, and so as the doors closed behind me I was once again left kicking myself that I had forgotten to get her phone number, and was left wondering why there wasn't some sort of website where you could follow up such brief encounters.
Ah ha, well if there isn't something already, why not make one...? So the mystery man then got some mates involved, got some money involved, and got cracking.
Why you think people don't talk on the tube in London? “Personally I think we have allowed it to become almost taboo to talk, smile and look at other people on the tube.”
I agree, if everybody else did it, so would we. At the moment – our train etiquette is that it would be strange to talk to people we don't know. That doesn't mean that it's set. Just like a fashion trend, it just needs a bit of encouragement before it escalates to critical mass.
He went on to say:
We conducted a poll prior to launching tott and about 70% of the people we surveyed thought that there was a 'tube community' and that they would like to improve their travelling experience by being more sociable. Therefore, it is the prevailing culture and not per-se that people are rude or anti-social that stops them talking. As our website says:
“Not everyone wants to talk on the tube. That's why we created talkonthetube.com an online community where you can talk to other people on the tube who don't want to talk to other people on the tube.”
But it's not just about online flirting, because you ain't got the balls to do it offline. Tott fills the function that all social networks cover, and hopefully unites commuters enough to affect our tube culture.
Did the mystery man ever get the girl? Not yet – but one day the blonde might cast her contact-lensed eyes over the tott website and discover the project that was created for her – may love save the day for us all...
By Liz Akers