The Columnist Part V: On Missed Connections
Every year, around this time - when London becomes awash with poppies: vivid scarlet pin-pricks in our seas of grey, quietly reprimanding the fretful, self-important busyness of city living - I re-read the letters from my grandma to my granddad during their post-WW2 courtship. Because his were lost, every time I read them - carefully easing them from the love-worn envelopes he preserved them in - I experience them as poignant fragments; a patchwork of missed connections and unanswered questions.
Incomplete, they’re the stuff of great storytelling in a way that our world of disclosure, smeared inelegantly online, is not. And it always makes me ponder: in losing the possibility of the unfinished story, have we lost something central to the stories we want to tell and those we want to hear? And - in a world with unlimited potential for human connection - how much are we really missing?
These days, what with digitally scheduled meet-cutes, omnipresent communication and cars that sync with your calendar, you actually have to work to miss a connection. Romantically, it must be said, missing anything at all would really be an erotic blessing. And when we consider how consistently we elevate the missed connection classifieds of yore to the lofty heights of the modern day epic, something is clearly lacking, in this word of petri-dish romance, from our sense of the collective story.
The irony is, of course, that we miss connections now more than ever: carving insulated slipstreams through our lives; perpetually buffered by our digital familiars instead of pondering our fellow stranger; busier unlocking the next level of Candy Crush than locking eyes. Sexual frisson au naturelle must be having a really bad run.
Urban app-assisted living feels increasingly like a series of stage-managed entrances and exits; conjuring people, whose existence we ponder little, to move and feed and wax us. We may soon actually be the blubber people in Wall-E, panting, like globulus pugs, on the human conveyer belt of life.
On my own path to panting solipsistic pug, Uber has long been my gateway drug to unsustainable living. To accommodate (I told myself) an otherwise infeasible half-term tutoring schedule, I once took Ubers for an entire week.
By its end, I was practically stoned on vanilla car musk; frenziedly, surreptitiously tapping my phone bang on ten-to to ensure minimal contact with the outside world; sliding straight back into the glorious subterranean hush of the Prius’s embrace. I had to cut myself off, for a while, after that; resurfacing mid-way through self-aggrandizing delusions - slack jawed, maybe with drool - that London was a series of delightful frescoes curated for my viewing pleasure as I travelled to my next unimaginably thrilling rendez-vous (go-to fantasy: spy. In a heartbeat. Mi5, if you’re reading this: it’s not too late).
But since shaking off the delusion - not the habit, sure, but we are all flawed creatures - I’ve realised Uber is not the cause of missed connections, but its cure: a rare cross-roads of multi-faceted, multi-cultural, multi-narrative London.
And truly, it’s amazing what you can learn in 20 minutes, just by listening carefully, and asking sincerely, and responding honestly. I’ve met tech entrepreneurs and ex-SAS; debated arranged marriage and racial boundaries with a Sikh father of four; listened to humbling tales of Somali war and Syrian escape-routes; indulged a Nigerian father’s despair at his daughter’s insistent disinterest in professional glory. One journey, clearly at low-ebb, I even shed some tears with a hindu medical student. And that was just last week.
So for anyone also struggling against the tide of Uber-addiction, I urge you: do the right thing. Request. Because while we might miss the grand narrative arcs of a former age; while we might be short-changed on epic yearning; we can still experience the singular, perspective altering pleasure of the unexpected connection - and we can do it with comfy seats, air con, and your own Spotify Playlist.