Last week was a quiet class for me. My students were out doing video shoots for their latest assignment, so there were just a few people hanging around, working on editing and so on. One of my students approached and sat down to ask a few questions. Nothing out of the ordinary.

A few minutes later, he struck up an interesting conversation. He said, “Nobody talks here.”

I asked what he meant. He explained that, since moving to Canada, he’s noticed that people don’t talk to each other. Standing at bus stops, waiting in line, it’s just a bunch of people, not talking. They might be fidgeting with their mobile device, plugged into their earbuds, or staring off into space, deep in their own thoughts, but they are not in any way connected to the people and things around them.

He’s absolutely right.

I’ve noticed this before too, especially since I’ve been a city dweller. Growing up in small towns, if you didn’t talk to everyone around you there was a problem. But in the city, it’s different. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. We don’t talk. We won’t talk.

Hide and Seek. We won’t talk to the people right in front of our eyes. Therefore, does it strike you as a bit strange that we are so willing to extend our hand in the online world and talk to just about anyone? There’s some weird social disconnects at play here. If you’re the guy who wants to strike up a conversation with everyone at the bus stop, people often see that as odd behaviour. But if you’re the gal who wants to chat with everyone on Facebook, then you’re a social butterfly. We stand in line at the grocery store, afraid to talk to the stranger behind us, but we bury ourselves in our iPhones instead, talking up a storm with 5000 of our closest”friends” on Twitter.

Step Away From the Device. We rave on and on about how social media has done so much to bring us together. It’s a worldwide conversation! It’s changed the way we communicate! I think in some ways, social media has merely given us tools to hide behind. For some people, especially the shyer ones, social media does make it easier to extend their hand and say hello. But, imagine, if we just took the time to look up from our BlackBerrys once in a while and say hello to the person standing next to us. Imagine how we might be brought together then.

Here is my challenge to you. At least once this week, as you go about your day, take the time to strike up a conversation with a stranger, in person. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be real. Don’t worry if people think you’re weird. I learned from my student that, in other cultures, you’re weird if you don’t talk to people! The philosophy is, we’re all here, in this moment, sharing whatever experience, good or bad. We might as well say hi, right? There’s a lot of wisdom in those words.

So stop. Put down your mobile device. Look around you. Smile. Say hello to whoever is there. You just never know what might happen.