August 3, 2019

The eyes have it all

The eyes have it all

Whenever I see a striking pair of eyes, like this one person’s on my social media feed, the thought I often have is about eye contact. In my observation, almost always, eye contact (or the lack of it), is directly proportional to the affluence of the place. In richer places, I find that strangers do not make eye contact unless they are in a defined space and it is considered alright to talk - for example at an event or a meet. In less affluent parts, people easily make eye contact.

Maybe it is not 100% true. People form the US are always ready with a warm smile and a small banter. Maybe its got to do with how much we need people around us - if the place is more organised and every one busy, then there is not need to acknowledge each other. While places that are less well organised, you need assistance of folks to navigate, necessitating eye contact.

The eyes have it all A wall art in Saigon, brimming with eye contact.

For me, it is particularly jarring. I travel between East Asia and South East Asia every couple of weeks. In Vietnam, I am in the habit of smiling or nodding to every person I meet in the elevator. In Hong Kong or Tokyo, I have to suddenly remember where I am and restrain that smile (thought the Japanese always return the nod).

A short excerpt from The loneliness epidemic” episode of the Ezra Klein Show”. Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general and the podcast host Ezra Klein discuss how even a small gesture such as making eye contact with strangers helps us feel more connected.


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