Millennials may be extremely gifted at technological pursuits, but when it comes to old school social skills, like holding a conversation that does not require a Wi-Fi connection, we are severely lacking. Go to any public vicinity and you will see crowds of young people with their heads bowed towards their iPhone screens, blissfully unaware of the physical world around them.
Our entire social lives are online. At this point, there are actually very few aspects of our lives that are not accessible through our mobile devices. Need to deposit a check? No problem, there is an app for that! Need a ride? Just open your favorite ridesharing app and you’ll be on your way in no time.
Even if our obsession with mobile technology has served as a crutch when it comes to socializing the old fashioned way, as long as our social media accounts stay active, we consider our social lives to be thriving, even if we have completely lost the art of communicating with each other face to face.
Persistent drivers determined to strike up a conversation have given me valuable skills and a new perspective.After relocating to Washington, D.C three years ago, I quickly discovered ridesharing apps, like Lyft and Uber. Though the metro is a relatively inexpensive way to get from place to place, it is also extremely time-consuming. My morning commute is over an hour long, so on mornings when I would give just about anything for 20 extra minutes of sleep, I opt to use a ridesharing service instead of public transportation.
At first, the idea of riding in a car with a stranger terrified me. However, my committed, long-term relationship with my iPhone would serve as a shield, guarding me against any unsolicited conversation during my ride to work.
I soon found that while many drivers were content to give me and my iPhone some privacy, there were others who seemed determined to strike up a conversation. Though I was initially annoyed by these persistent drivers, it is because of them that I have learned a valuable lesson and gained a new perspective.
Washington, D.C. is full of uniquely interesting people from a variety of different backgrounds. Their stories are fascinating to hear if you manage to put your phone down long enough to really experience it. Once I committed to being fully present during my rides, ridesharing gave me a rare opportunity to improve my social skills.
For many millennials, networking is a necessary evil required of ambitious young professionals looking to get ahead. True, forcing a smile for hours on end while pretending to be interested in a boring conversation can seem daunting – painful, even – but at the end of the day, networking skills are vital to making the connections that will help you build your career.
Unfortunately for the millennial generation, who have forged the majority of their relationships online, these are the skills we desperately need to improve on. However, ridesharing could potentially provide the solutions to our lack of social skills.
When I was speaking to a fellow millennial about how ridesharing services have taught me how to communicate with a variety of different people, she responded to my comments by telling me she always puts on headphones and brings her Kindle with her when she uses ridesharing services.
Cringing as I imagined what my grandmother would say to me about proper manners had I admitted to doing what my friend does, I realized that the lessons ridesharing had taught me were applicable to all millennials.
Learning from Forced Conversations
Though I am sure a traditional cab could potentially provide these lessons to its riders, ridesharing companies operate in such a way that makes them the ideal classroom for social etiquette 101.
In some cabs, especially in bigger cities, you will frequently find a glass or plastic partition between the front of the car and the back seat of the car, which is not exactly the most welcoming situation to attempt to start a conversation. Nothing says “Don’t talk to me” like a solid barrier.
I no longer hide in a corner at networking events, praying no one approaches me.Since ridesharing apps provide both the user and the driver with pertinent personal information about each other, the ride starts out on a more familiar level than simply hailing a random cab on a street corner. Lyft goes one step further and has the option of adding a few “about me” sentences to your ridesharing profile, which serve as great conversation starters.
Whenever I open the door to begin my ride with a ridesharing service, nine times out of 10 I am greeted by name and offered a water, mint, or gum. This immediately helps to break the ice and fosters an environment ripe for good conversation.
Since making this conscious effort to get out of my comfort zone and improve my conversation skills, I have learned more about the world than I ever imagined. I have learned what life is like for a Nigerian immigrant who was a lawyer back home until they decided to move to America for a better life. I have listened to the stories of an Afghanistan native, who left his entire family and moved to America to escape the perpetual turmoil in the Middle East. I have made connections with people from places I had only read about in books. I have also learned to hold my tongue and graciously disagree with someone without letting anger dominate the discussion.
Above all, I learned how to listen to others instead of merely going on and on about my own life. Millennials may never recover from our addiction to our smartphones and other mobile devices, but we can make more of an effort to engage in the world around us.
In my own personal experience, ridesharing has helped me transition from a small town to a big city, while learning all the social skills necessary to make that transition easier. I no longer hide in a corner at networking events, praying no one approaches me. Instead, I embrace conversations that used to make me feel incredibly nervous. There is truly so much more to ridesharing than just a convenient ride, if you are willing to look up from your screen and learn something new about a stranger.
This first appeared at Generation Opportunity.