The Loneliness of Herds

We’re publishing an original piece on the Daily Sceptic today by Dr. Sinéad Murphy, a Research Associate in Philosophy at Newcastle University and a regular Lockdown Sceptics contributor. She starts by teasing out the implications of a new bench on St Thomas Street in Newcastle, which advertises itself as being for people who are “happy to chat”, and from there draws some gloomy conclusions about the gradual elimination of spontaneous, un-signposted social interaction. Here is an extract:

Has the person sitting on the “Happy to chat bench” sat there on purpose to chat and are they completely indiscriminate about whom they chat to? Did they see the sign before they slumped onto the seat? If they are sitting on the section of the bench with the sign posted to it, then they are at least partially obscuring the sign from the view of passers-by. Does that mean they’d prefer not to chat to complete strangers, thank you very much? The difficulties abound.

The irony is that we are much more sure of ourselves in implicit human interactions than we are in explicit centrally-administered interactions.

Things can go wrong, of course, even in the implicit human mode. We can turn to talk to someone and find that they are not in the mood to talk, or cannot speak English, or have earphones in and cannot hear us. But the mortifying effect of these errors in judgment reveals just how rarely they happen.

We are practised at casual human encounters. They arise for us in contexts in which almost everything is already clear. We read their cues without effort, mostly even without knowing that we’re doing it.

By contrast, we are wrong-footed by centrally-administered encounters; the number of directives required for our easy negotiation of them is impossible to generate. And anyway, there is neither room on the back of a bench to post them nor time as you pass it by to read them.

Worth reading in full.

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