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Why the new "Tube Chat" badges are an affront to humanity

tube-chat.jpg

A new menace has been unleashed on the London Underground: and it's not an army of super-rats, or even more planned engineering works.

An unknown group has begun handing out 'Tube Chat' badges, seemingly in an attempt to get people talking on the underground network - TfL has confirmed that it is not behind the scheme.

But this seemingly innocuous pin badge is nothing short of an incendiary act, for it cuts right across the fault line of Londoners.

One the one hand, who can argue with what is surely its heart: to try and encourage people to be friendlier to each other, to potentially reach out to those many people for whom loneliness, and isolation in a big, uncaring city is a genuine concern. This is a laudable target, and is an issue demanding to be addressed.

But at the same time, it's the tube. Nobody talks to each other on the tube. Ever. And when it happens, it is deeply, deeply uncomfortable for all concerned. Just the thought of having to talk to anyone - even someone we actually like - is enough to send most of us into a cold sweat (although that would quickly become a hot one on the Central line). Predictably, the reaction on social media has been overwhelmingly negative:

So it's easy to mock, and to be negative. Perhaps we need to open our minds, our mouths and our ears, and turn the tube into a conversational space to make everyone's day just that little bit brighter, right?

Wrong.

A 'chat badge' is a good idea. But not on the tube. Silence is sacred on the tube. It is one of the very last bastions of seclusion we have in this world. It's just you, your smartphone (or ShortList magazine) and your own thoughts. Admittedly, thoughts that centre on "Why are we being held in this f***ing tunnel", "How is it possible for anything to be this hot" or "Why is that total weirdo staring at me", but at least there is precious, glorious silence to stew yourself in, something which is all too rare these days. By acknowledging the sheer mass of humanity around you with conversation, you invite the clammy, claustrophobic realisation of just what a wretched position you're all in.

Of course we Londoners need to cheer up and start being nicer to each other. Of course we need to sort out our rampant belief that we are all too important to even acknowledge the existence of fellow Londoners as anything other than a nuisance, holding us up on whatever crucially important quest we are on. 

But not in the pressure cooker environment of a packed tube train, where there is no escape. One fuse - literal, or metaphorical - blows down there and there could be total carnage.

Keep the energy low, keep interactions to a minimum, and we might all just get through our journeys without killing each other.

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