Ever wondered about the story behind that person sitting next to you on the train? It’s highly likely that you have. While most of us are offered an opportunity to meet new people and share our stories on a daily basis, it seems as if something as easy as making a quick conversation with a stranger has become something of the past.
Imagine: you are sitting on a tram, train, or metro, alongside someone that inexplicably intrigues you. Whether it’s that pretty girl of your dreams, the weird looking pierced and tattooed guy, or a senior who looks like she’s been through a lot; you simply want to know more about them. There is only one problem though: wouldn’t it be weird to start a conversation in public with someone you don’t know? Why would that person share their story with you? Shouldn’t we just be concerned with ourselves, or our smartphones?
It seems that society keeps on individualizing itself. Random encounters and interactions with strangers appear to have gone extinct and are ‘not done’ anymore. It is mostly for that reason that social artist Julien Thomas (also known for his Faraday Café) and spatial designer Manon Veldhuis created Ondergronds: an online storytelling platform that connects unfamiliar citizens to share their stories while travelling on a moving metro together. What makes Ondergronds different from other, similar ‘experiments’ is that it purposely aims to connect people from different generations. Ondergronds Amsterdam (as it is the first, but likely not the last city where the experiment will take place) currently consists of a group of 16 senior Amsterdammers who in total offer 64 twenty-minute conversations on a metro ride that anyone can join.
Ondergronds Amsterdams works as follows: one visits the website, where you can explore the lives of all the seniors taking part in the experiment. There’s Freek, who served as a soldier in the Dutch East Indies; Karina, an artist who exhibited in India; Will, who survived Camp Westerbork during the Second World War, and many others who are more than willing to share their story – and hear yours. After exploring the lives of these interesting seniors, you’re able to book a 20-minute conversation that takes place over a few days this November. After booking your conversation, arrive at a given train station where you will be provided with additional information – and more important – supplies to spread the word of Ondergronds. Once you are good to go, meet up with your senior and hop on a train.
As Julien and Manon acknowledge, Ondergronds is primarily about connecting people and creating an opportunity for conversation. While other, similar initiatives share this aim, their project is mostly focused on bringing together people from different generations, and breaking with ‘generational’ social divides. Ondergronds is currently only taking place in Amsterdam, but as it touches upon a universal situation, Julien and Manon strive to expand their project to other cities. If you are interested in their project and want to know more about these seniors, you should definitely check out the website and make sure to book a metro ride that you’ll probably never forget!