Unlike any other city I’ve ever lived, San Francisco is a city full of strangers. We get in our Ubers and Lyfts and never even look up.
By Kevin Hildebrandt
I moved to San Francisco from New York and thought I knew what a city was. I knew there would be smells. I knew it would be expensive. I even knew there would be the occasional confrontation with people on the street. Working around crowds of tourists and getting from place to place did not bother me. Yet, when I got here, despite the warmer weather and California hospitality, the city felt more cold than anything I experienced in New York. Everyone was looking out for their own interest. Even conversations seemed like information gathering as people searched to see if you could help their next startup.
In New York, between home and work I would have at least 2-3 conversations with strangers. Some short, some long, but each day I had these small interactions that let me know there was a bit of humanity still alive. Here in San Francisco, I get in my Lyft, nod to the driver and look down at my phone and don’t dare start conversation because that would be weird. Our sheltered environment revolves around each person staying to themselves and I hope we can move beyond that.
“Making the world less lonely means smiling and saying ‘hi’ again. Maybe eventually they’ll start saying ‘hi’ back.”
I’m not saying SF is alone in this struggle. Big cities all over the world are full of people going about their day who are too busy thinking about what they need to do to even look up and realize where they are. Yet, with a little more community feel our city and other big cities can be more inviting and help give human connection in a time of separation.
But Kevin, why would I want to talk with people or form a relationship with them if I’m never going to see them again? Maybe you don’t, but as the world moves to an online ecosystem, having genuine human connection with random individuals feels like a positive step to putting a face on the struggle that is life.
Lonely in a city of thousands of people seems like a unique problem, but I assure you, there are millions of individuals looking for connection in cities. We hesitate to reach out without realizing that may be the spark people need to feel comfortable where they are. We interact with dozens of people everyday, whether by choice or by necessity, yet how many of them actually know who we are and what we care about? I know I don’t offer to share much information with those I’m with daily.
When I was home in Arizona visiting my parents I realized I grew up saying hi to everyone as we walked the dogs in the morning. This is what I miss. So, for now, making San Francisco and the world seem a little less lonely each day for me is just smiling and saying “hi” to people again. Maybe eventually they will start saying “hi” back.