My definition of a phenomenon? Having the guts to do the things you say you’re going to do. Let’s face it, many of us prefer to exist within our comfort zone. You know that space where predictability is our ally, where the magic doesn’t happen. So imagine our excitement to find someone who’s walking the walk, every pun intended. Conversationalist Chris Andrews took it upon himself to walk across America to connect with strangers, to communicate the old fashioned way, because he dreamt about it and decided he would. While he meets people on the ground, he’s also inspiring countless others online with his Let’s Talk initiative. MC, editor
Tell us a little about what inspired you to walk from one side of America to the other?
I got the idea in my final year of University. I was so consumed by what was happening on social media that it was becoming ingrained in my routine. Whenever I had free time, or even when I was spending time with others, I was pulling my phone out and draining hours into it. I found myself becoming so connected to my phone that I was disconnecting from the people around me.
My call to action came when I began to question the effect this was having on me. Smartphones are amazing tools — they allows us to communicate across countries and continents at the click of a button. But what happens when we begin to replace face-to-face interactions with digital ones? Our quality of life is at stake here.
And what did it take to bring you to the first step of the journey?
All those ideas were floating round in my head and I thought, “How can I make a difference? … Maybe if I went on this crazy journey, I could grab people’s attention and then use that as a vehicle to spread my message.” From there, I began the process of branding the trip and making the message powerful and clear. I spoke at TedX, I got sponsors and donors and all of a sudden I was leaving on my journey from Washington DC.
How does a typical day start and end?
I wake before sunrise, pack up my tent, put cornstarch on my feet and silk sock liners, I pack up Goose (my cart) and I get on the road as the sun is rising. The day ends with setting up camp, usually on a kind stranger’s lawn. I cook up a Backpacker’s Pantry meal, journal and write music.
What have you learned along the way?
I have learned that when you are vulnerable and rely on others, you have connections that are much deeper and more fulfilling.
And what’s the biggest impact you’ve seen Let’s Talk make?
When I spoke to 700 kids at a middle school in Dallas, I heard their questions, which came from an honest and real place. I knew they had started thinking about how they were using their devices and that was very moving for me.
At the start of your lectures (and your TEDx talk), you ask everyone to turn to the person next to them, look at them and keep looking. Why was it so important to start like that?
I think that starting out any talk by asking people to be vulnerable, even for a short time, can help people connect with the reality of the message. This message is centered around being present and truly engaging with people.
On Mile 125, you met a man who said “We’ve forgotten about solitude. We’ve forgotten about quiet time. Everyone’s texting and are never alone. Never quiet.” How much do you agree with that and how damaging do you think it is?
I think that it’s very easy to get caught up in the noise, if we don’t manage our usage. Then we risk not having time for ourselves, which is where productivity, creativity and peace all exist.
Tell us about the people who have run with you on certain parts of the trip.
I travelled about 400 miles with a man who didn’t wear shoes and picked up trash on the side of the road. We spent our evenings building musical instruments out of the trash we found. It gave me perspective on how to enjoy the journey, and to not have my eyes only on the finish line.
Although your mission is to inspire others to get away from their phones and laptops and speak to others in the real world, social media has been the key to sharing your story. What have you learned from the comments and people who interact with you online? Can you see that you’re making a difference in people’s lives / behaviour?
In a general sense, this project is about acting with intention.
I have some guidelines: No phone at dinner, and no phone right when you wake up. Those are times in which you can find a lot of peace. You can enjoy those moments of quiet and the presence of those around you. A practical tip is to put all your most distracting apps on the last page of your phone in a folder titled, “Do I really need this?” After you’ve done that, you cut that instinct, and give yourself a moment to reconsider.
Another general rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you are using your phone as a tool or as a way of life. There’s a fine line. I like to use my phone as a tool to spread a positive message, reach out to a friend, or share something important. But sometimes we spend hours just scrolling mindlessly. The line between tool and lifestyle is a good line to keep in mind. Ask yourself, “Do I really need my phone right now?” The overarching idea of active intention is remembering how valuable time with others can be.
What difficulties have you faced in your journey and how have you dealt with them? How much cornstarch have you used on your feet?
That’s a big question. I guess pushing through the discomfort of relying on people and pushing my body and my mind to their limits. However, by doing so I’ve been able to embrace the progress you can make as an individual when you do let go.
And about 2 cups.
“Don’t listen to what anybody says except the people who encourage you. If it’s what you want to do and it’s within yourself, then keep going and try to do it for the rest of your life.” – Jake Gyllenhaal. As you near your 3,000 mile goal, do you have any tips for aspiring changemakers on how to stay committed to a cause or a project?
If you are driven by something inside of yourself, and you are not sure why, but you still feel the pull, then trust yourself and trust that impulse because your purpose will become more and more clear.
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