The Dallas Morning News

Meet the guy who's walked 1,473 miles to promote face-to-face communication

Day 105 of Chris Andrews’ journey began just like the others: He woke up, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, rubbed cornstarch on his feet and started walking.

The 22-year-old had never been to Dallas. He arrived a few days ago — by foot — from Washington, D.C., covering 1,473 miles with more than 2 million steps, in search of face-to-face communication.

On this morning, Andrews wanted to visit the Bishop Arts District. He’d heard it was a great place to meet people, so he pushed his traveling cart 17 miles from Addison to Highland Park, to Uptown and Oak Cliff, down sidewalks and shoulders, past gaping bystanders and honking cars.

The walk took six hours — easy compared with some of the 12-hour, 30-mile treks he’s made in 100-degree heat or pouring rain.

He arrived before lunch, his blond beard uneven, growing wild ever since this journey began Aug. 8. A tan line divided his face just above the nose. The logo on his shirt matched the one on his cart: “Let’s Talk: A journey to get America talking again.”

The Bishop Arts District was busy on this day. Some people walked and talked. Others buried their faces in their phones.

Andrews moved along the sidewalk, looking to start a conversation. Mike Goldfuss neared at a quick pace. The owner of Collective Brewing Project in Fort Worth was on a sales call. He saw Andrews and his cart, but never intended to stop.

“Hi there,” Andrews said, his words enthusiastic. Goldfuss paused.

“My name is Chris Andrews. I only want to take your time for 30 seconds. I’m crossing the United States on foot from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to try to spread a message about the importance of face-to-face conversation in our digital age. Just encouraging people to try and find that balance. And I was wondering if I could ask you a question? Do you have a smartphone?”

Goldfuss looked confused.

“I do,” he said.

“Could you try to explain to me how your life would be different if you didn’t, or if no one had smartphones?”

The 35-year-old laughed.

“Well,” Goldfuss said. “That’s not a 30-second question.”

A simple ‘Hello’

Two years ago, Andrews began almost every morning the same way: He’d reach for his phone, find the Facebook icon and scroll through his news feed.

He was a college student, and like many of his friends, was dependent on the connectivity of social media.

“It was this mind-numbing way to spend time. I didn’t really enjoy it, but it was just so endless and so stimulating in a way that it was hard not to do it. It became an instinct. It became routine.”

Andrews used his phone for GPS, texting, emails, social media and casual communication. It was convenient. It was quick. It was entertaining. He would reach for his phone during lulls, like sitting on a train or waiting for coffee, and noticed everyone else was doing the same.

But after a while, Andrews grew concerned. The time he spent staring at a screen was time he could’ve formed personal connections with friends and strangers. He needed balance, so he became more aware of when he was using his phone. The problem? Many of the people he was trying to communicate with were still focused on a screen.

“I felt isolated. I felt like it was hard to connect with people and really build friendships when there was at least one person in the group maybe in that gray space, where they’ve got their phone out, they’re participating in the conversation, but they’re not fully there,” Andrews said. “They’re not experiencing deep listening.”

Communication was changing, so when Andrews graduated, he embarked on a campaign. He would travel across the country and seek face-to-face conversations, breaking barriers to stop people for a simple “Hello.”

And he’d walk.

“It’s the most basic form of transportation paired with the most basic form of communication,” Andrews said. “You’re forced to interact with people constantly.”

Andrews funded the trip through $4,000 in donations from friends and family. He pushes a cart, equipped with a tent, sleeping pad, food, water, clothing and a solar panel to charge his iPhone and camera.

Because Andrews knows how important mobile connectivity is. He’s just promoting balance.

In 3 1/2 months, he’s walked through D.C., Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He’s walked past roadkill, rattlesnakes and wild dogs. He’s slept on church floors, couches and front lawns (when the homeowner approves).

He has four pairs of underwear, seven pairs of socks, and is on his sixth pair of sneakers. He’s sponsored by multiple outdoor apparel and survival companies. He rubs cornstarch on his feet to prevent blisters, a trick he learned from a professional runner he met on the way.

He walks 20 to 30 miles a day, showers once a week and tries to do laundry twice a month.

“I’ve learned to love the simple nature of what I do,” Andrews said, who’s from Michigan but has lived all over the world. “I’m eating, sleeping, walking and talking.”

He also speaks at middle schools. That’s the generation Andrews is most concerned about, the one raised with smartphones and social media. This week, he spoke to 700 students at Highland Park Middle School. He begins each talk the same way: Turn to the person next to you and stare in their eyes for 10 seconds.

His travels are recorded on a website, www.LetsTalkUSA.com. It lists his mileage, message, road map and stories, but the section he’s most proud of is “Face to Face.”

That’s where his connections are preserved. After memorable conversations, he’ll take out his camera and ask for a picture.

Seeking authentic responses

The sidewalks in Bishop Arts grew crowded with diners and shoppers, and among the bustle, two strangers connected about the importance of face-to-face communication.

Without smartphones, Goldfuss explained, he’d have a hard time navigating. But he understands the downsides.

“I think we’re losing touch with other people,” Goldfuss said. The small business owner cited concerns with generations dependent on mobile communication. For example, if they have minimal experience with face-to-face conversations, how will they interview for jobs?

“You won’t be able to get straight responses from some of them because they don’t have 15 minutes to think about it before they respond,” Goldfuss said. “So it scares me about how detached with everything people are. How attached to their phones and technology.”

As Goldfuss spoke, Andrews made eye contact. He nodded and smiled, actively listening and focused on the conversation.

“I really like that idea of authentic responses,” Andrews said. “Thanks for such a good answer. I appreciate that.”

By now, Andrews’ 30 seconds were up. But Goldfuss stayed. Now he was asking about Andrews’ travels, and the message he was trying to spread.

“It’s a good issue,” Goldfuss said. “But [technology is] not going to stop.”

“But if we can get people to think about it, then maybe we can get a few people to put their phones down at the dinner table,” Andrews said. “Or not scroll for an hour when they wake up.”

Goldfuss nodded.

“Yeah, because everybody thinks what’s on their phone is more important than what’s right in front of them,” Goldfuss said. “And you lose touch with what you’re actually experiencing. You’re not experiencing it.”

To that, Andrews smiled. This was the purpose of his journey. Maybe Goldfuss would continue this conversation with his friends. Maybe he would share Andrews’ story, or his message, and one person at a time, people would slowly detach, finding that balance to live in both worlds, to make more eye contact, to start more random conversations, on the train and in line for coffee, to feel less isolated and more connected with the people and places surrounding them.

On Friday, Andrews leaves for Midland. He’s hoping to make it to Los Angeles by mid-March.

He thanked Goldfuss again for talking. And before he moved on to the next conversation,  he reached for something in his cart.

“Do you mind if I take a picture of you?”

The Oxford Eagle

Man hopes to encourage others to put down their phones and talk

Sitting on a bench outside of the Lafayette County Courthouse Monday, Chris Andrews was resting a bit while taking in the sights of Oxford’s historic downtown Square.

His feet have taken quite a beating lately. Since August 8, he’s walked 926 miles and his journey is far from over.

Andrews, a Michigan native, is walking 3,000 miles across the United States carrying with him a simple message – “Let’s talk.”

While attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland where he studied business management and Spanish, Andrews started to see the effects of digital communication.

“I started to realize the way we are communicating as a society has changed drastically,” he said. “I noticed my own behavior changing. I was so consumed with what was on my phones, tablet or computer, I’ve started to lose touch with people around me. I noticed it in others as well.”

Andrews had an idea that if he started on some “crazy” journey across the United States after graduation, maybe he could grab people’s attention and use it to spread a message that people simply need to talk to each other more face-to-face.

“This isn’t about throwing away our phones or deleting social media accounts,” he said. “But there has to be a time when we put that stuff down and talk to the people around us.”

Andrews’ walk started in Washington D.C. He predicts the entire trip should take about eight months. Not only is he walking the entire way, he often stops for a day or two in certain towns where he finds people have a lot to talk about. Oxford was one of those towns.

“There’s so much rich history here,” he said. “It’s a beautiful town with a great mix of college students and native Southerners. And what they say about Southern hospitality is true, by the way. People have been amazing in the South.”

While walking through Tishomingo State Park, he happened on a couple from Oxford who invited him to a hot meal and warm bed when he made his way to Oxford. The woman works at Oxford Middle School and also invited Andrews to come speak to the school Monday.

“That was a lot of fun,” Andrews said. “I really believe this message needs to be heard by our youth because they were born into this digital era. They’re most at risk and we need to remind them there’s a balance.”

“People joke with me sometimes that I’m doing this to tell people to talk to each other and I’m using social media to spread the word,” he said. “It’s just about making time for real conversations with the people around you. If you don’t do that, you don’t learn people’s stories and everyone has a story. It’s not about unplugging completely — it’s about finding that healthy balance that improves that quality of life.

“When we move away from face-to-face and replace it with digital communication, people lose a certain level of empathy and patience and a real disconnection happens in our daily lives.”

His girlfriend, Emma Rebein, has been helping Andrews with the logistics of the trip while finishing her senior year at St. Andrews. She helps by sending care packages, managing Andrews’s website and social media accounts, reaching out to sponsors who provide Andrews with gear. While walking, he pushes a three-wheeled pet carrier filled with his sleeping bag, tent, guitar, food, water and medical supplies. On the side, there’s a sign that reads, “Let’s Talk USA,” which is what he named his project.

When he meets someone willing to talk, he interviews them and takes their photograph.

“It’s amazing the stories you hear and the things you can learn,” he said. “Sometimes, I knock on someone’s door and tell them what I’m doing and ask if I can pitch my tent on their front lawn. That opens up conversations with those people and others living on the street.”

At 22 years old, Andrews knew that if he was ever going to do something as grand as his walk across America, now was the best time to do it.

“I’m not married, and I don’t have children, and currently don’t have a job,” he said. “I’m young and healthy. The time was right.”

The Daily Mississippian

Let’s Talk: Cross-country journey makes pit stop in Oxford

After trekking 30 miles from sun up until sun down in the pouring rain, Chris Andrews arrived in Oxford.

His feet ached, his clothes and cart were sopping, and he was only a third of the way through his journey.

“Oxford was like a haven for me,” he said.

Andrews, 22, made a weekend pitstop in Oxford during his 3,000-mile, 200-day journey. It’s all on foot and it’s all for a cause. He began his trip just south of Washington D.C. in Fairview Beach on the Potomac River.

Andrews wants people to be on their phones a little less but talk to people a lot more.

Born in Argentina, Andrews has lived all over the world from Chile to Mexico to the east coast and Michigan. He also studied in Scotland, but claims Suttons Bay, Michigan as home.

“It’s the pinky of the state,” Andrews laughed. “Down here I always use that metaphor and everyone’s like, ‘What they heck are you talking about?’ But when you’re in Michigan or on the east coast, they’re like, ‘Oh yeah.’ They get it.”

He left the pinky to study business management and Spanish at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. When he graduated in July, his degree came with a “What’s next?” decision.

“About a year and a half ago, I was becoming so connected to what was on my phone and what was on my tablet,” Andrews said. “The digital world was starting to sort-of overshadow my face-to-face interactions with the people around me. I started become disconnected in that sense.”

He said he noticed it most at the dinner table or hanging out with friends, when everyone was looking at their phones instead of each other.

This observation is what started his campaign, Let’s Talk.

“I thought a journey was a good way to capture people’s attention in a positive way because not only was I traveling and getting the chance to speak to people about the issue, but I was getting a bunch of different perspectives,” Andrews said.

Let’s Talk. is all about improving people’s quality of life and finding balance.

“It’s all about that other side, the positive side of the coin of what you learn, how you grow, and how communities get stronger when you invest in taking the time, face the fear, and have those face-to-face conversations,” Andrews said.

He is promoting his journey through social media, like a website, Instagram and Tumblr, all of which his girlfriend Emma, is helping manage.

Andrews said a lot of people say the idea of promoting his campaign through social media is a paradox, but he said whenever he talks about his message he emphasizes the point of balance.

He even claims to be a proud user of social media. 

“I am grateful for my ability to be able to talk to my parents or to my friends who are across the globe or across the country. It’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “I also love my ability to inspire people to live a healthier life in terms of how they balance their means of communication. In that way, I don’t think it’s a paradox.”

Originally, Andrews wanted to go straight across the country. He thought it’d be super easy and he’d get to go through places like Colorado, where it’d be beautiful this time of year.

“But then one day, I realized it was going to be freezing cold and I would freeze to death,” he laughed. “So, somewhere along the line, I made the decision that I needed to come down South.”

Andrews had never been to the Southern region of the United States but he heard Southern people were hospitable, nice, and easy to talk to. All of those have proven true during his stay in Oxford, he said.

“Every inch of the Square is beautiful,” Andrews said. “Not only that, but the town is historically rich, and it’s real easy to talk to people here.”

Andrews had traveled a long 120-mile stretch on the Natchez Trace from Nashville to get to Oxford, spending two-and-a-half weeks surrounded by rural farms. Being back in a town with a university-feel and so much energy was exciting for him.

During his stay, Andrews warmed his belly with Big Bad Breakfast, and met some Ole Miss students there. He spoke to three sixth grade classes at Oxford Middle School about the Let’s Talk. message. He also made a pitstop at Square Books. He bought the book “Songwriters on Songwriting” by Paul Zollo, because he also likes to write music.

“I went to the bookstore and bought this massive book in the bookshop,” Andrew said, pulling the orange hardback book out of his cart. “I needed to invest a little more energy in not getting sucked into my phone when I was in my tent. I thought I could buy this big book even though it’s the bulkiest thing ever.”

He wants to read a couple of pages every night to help keep him centered mentally.

“The person in the bookshop was like, ‘As you go, you can rip out all the pages as you read that way the book gets lighter and it incentivizes you to read it.’”

Along with his new book, his three-wheeled pet carrier holds a small guitar, sleeping bag, tent, food, water, medical supplies, and other gear. Some of the more special objects in his carrier are a stone and some knick knacks.

His celebration at the end of his journey will be throwing the knick knacks in the ocean, jumping in with them, and maybe enjoying an ice cold beer. Then, it will be time for him to head home.

Andrews said the plane ride home at the end of his journey will be the best plane ride ever.

“It might feel demoralizing,” he said. “I might be like, ‘Wow, I just traveled what I traveled in eight months in a couple of hours,’ but it will be amazing.”

As of today, he’s traveled 1,000 miles and more than two million steps and is heading toward the western deserts and plateaus of Texas and New Mexico.

“It’s a dream of mine to finish the trip, so I’m taking it one step at a time,” Andrews said smiling with a twinkle in his light blue eyes.

Vanderbilt Hustler

Man walks across the country to promote face-to-face interaction

In the first 650 miles of his journey across the United States, Chris Andrews listened to the stories of farmers who hadn’t set foot in a grocery store until they were 18 years old, toured a water plant and ate molasses fed to him by a survivalist man who lives in a bunker underground. 

When Andrews began to notice that the nature of communication had transformed to become more centered on technology and the impact of this transformation on his own behavior, he set out to learn more about face-to-face interaction. In his research, Andrews discovered that face-to-face interaction is a skill that requires development, and the more society moves away from this skill, the greater the repercussions.

IT IS THE MOST HUMAN AND HUMANIZING THING THAT WE DO. IT IS WHAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE.

Through studies conducted by Professors Sherry Turkle and Frank Partnoy at MIT and Yale, respectively, Andrews discovered links between face-to-face interaction and patience, empathy and problem-solving skills. Though technology has allowed society to progress, over reliance on technology has also set society back in the realm of person-to-person interaction. For Andrews, these studies strengthened his desire to promote interaction rooted not in technology but in real-life conversations. 

“Face-to-face communication is something that brings people together,” Andrews said. “I think that there’s this very abstract consequence, which strikes me daily, which is the friendships, the conversations, the knowledge, and the joy that you don’t even know that you’re missing when you sit on the subway and are on your phone rather than turning to your right and saying ‘hello.’”

Sitting with a former racecar driver turned construction project manager and his artist wife on their front porch as the sun set in Sparta, TN, the three discussed the power of circumstance and coincidence as well as the influence of technology on face-to-face interaction. For the racecar driver, the technological impact on social interaction was a chain of ideas: digital communication as a way of life leads to isolation, isolation leads to ignorance, ignorance leads to fear and fear leads to conflicts. 

Before being able to sit down to this conversation about the main ideas of his trip, Andrews must get from place to place along his route each day. Rising between 5 and 6 a.m., he hits the road at 7 a.m., jogging when it is cool in the mornings before stopping for breakfast and continuing on his route. Halfway through the day, when the sun is beating down, he stops at gas stations to interact with the inhabitants of the towns he walks through. Before sundown, he aims to settle into a rhythm in his travel and put in a significant distance before settling just before sundown. He sleeps in a tent on the lawns of strangers whom he has talked to, with their approval. Despite frustration in the journey, Andrews believes that that small setbacks along the way are worth the end result that comes with face-to-face interaction.

“Little bursts of frustration normally happen when I’m on the road: it’s over 100 degrees, there’s no shoulder on the road, I’m going up a mountain, and it starts thunderstorming. … But at the same time, that is what gives me energy — when I put myself out there, and I am rewarded in a way by having these really great conversations. I’m energized by that.”

Mind filled with the story of a South Carolina farmer dressed in overalls and living by a lake who sat down to talk to him outside his tent at night, with the image of a group of mountain people roasting a 500-pound mountain hog outside a fire station, and with the reunion with familiar faces in Nashville, Chris now begins the next leg of his journey, which will eventually take him to Southern California.

The only material objects with him are the contents of the cart he pushes: a tent, water, food, clothing, medical equipment and a stove. But along with those physical objects and with those memories, he carries his intention to promote face-to-face interaction in every city he visits. 

BY ALL MEANS, USE TECHNOLOGY, USE IT FOR WHAT IT IS: A GREAT TOOL.

“It is the most human and humanizing thing that we do. It is what makes us who we are, and it is the greatest catalyst for growth as an individual and as a community,” Andrews said. “It’s the centerpiece of our daily lives. … I hope to just start the conversation and hope that the conversation starts to move the needle on the way we perceive the value of face-to-face conversation. … By all means, use technology, use it for what it is: a great tool. You don’t have to unplug, you can be comfortable with that, but just understand that this is a question of quality of life. If you can learn how to strike that balance and work that into your routine, then I think that we all have a lot to gain from that.”

The Southwest Times

Chris Andrews is walking through Southwest Virginia on his way west in a 3,200-mile cross-country trek to promote a national conversation about returning to more face-to- face communication. “One goal of this journey is to interact with as many people as I can to symbolize the importance of face-to-face interaction,” he explains. And he’s talked to all sorts of people from all walks of life since he began what he calls an “incredible” journey. “The level of generosity alone has been pretty surprising to me,” he says. He left Aug. 8 from Fairview Beach, which rests along the Potomac River, pushing his three-wheel cart along Route 11 past Radford, Pulaski and Wytheville on his way across the United States. After completing 350 miles and his first state with Virginia, he’s now entering Tennessee. The idea to take the walk began almost two years ago for the 22-year- old while he was a student at the University of St. Andrews in St. Andrews, Scotland. “Here was this small university community dominated by digital communication. Technology is not bad, but I observed that people were losing touch with the people around them because they were so consumed by digital communication.” He noticed his own addiction to his mobile phone and waking up in the morning to endless scrolling through phones or other devices.

“My biggest concern is the inability to balance technology with the need for face-to-face communication. We need to look at the power of face-to- face communication as a skill and something that makes us more empathetic and patient, something that brings communities together and makes us all better at whatever job we do.”

Andrews says many of the people he’s met on his journey have their own perspective on the purpose of his walk. “When I started this journey I had my own ideas about the inability to balance face-to-face communication, but others have offered new perspectives of what this is all about.” He’s been documenting those perspectives at his website, www.letstalkusa.com, which can be followed to keep tabs on a trip that will eventually take him into warmer states like Texas and New Mexico for the winter before eventually concluding in Los Angeles next spring.

One man he met on his trek west told him, “You know, technology has its time and place, but I’m old school. I’m not afraid to write a letter.”

A woman told Andrews, “It’s almost handicapping people. There is something about communicating with others, the energy that we pass between us that is lost when texting and sending emails. I never know how they are saying what they are saying.” Another man said, “We were made for presence, made to be in relationships with people, and we were made to be known, as scary as that may seem.” Yet another man Andrews met expressed his concerns about what digital communication was doing to our youth: “I heard the other day that the average American looks at their phone over 200 times per day, and research is finding that when parents are doing that, there are serious consequences for infants who rely on that face-to-face interaction at an early age to bond.”

Andrews is also co cerned about how the concentration on digital communication is influencing children. “Our current younger generation grew up with digital communication. What happens to children when digital interaction replaces face-to-face interactions?” Andrews asks. He’s hoping his walk will encourage communities to start reflecting on questions like these as we seek to build stronger communications and communities.

Andrews estimates that 80 percent of his nights on the trek are spent camping in someone’s yard after walking up to their door and asking permission. “When I knock on someone’s door, that’s breaking ice in a time when that’s extremely uncommon, but it helps them to realize it’s not that scary. A lot of this message comes down to addressing your fears.” Sometimes he’s invited to stay in their house after he explains his mission and message. “What keeps surprising me is the power of circumstance and coincidence,” Andrews says of his encounters so far. His trip is funded by donations, and sponsors have supplied his energy bars, water filtration system, medical equipment and clothes. 

Virginia First

'Man walking across U.S. to spread message about face-to-face communication'

ROANOKE, VA. A man is walking across the country to promote a greater need for face-to-face communication, and on Sunday he reached Roanoke.

Chris Andrews recently graduated from college and wants to encourage people to swap conversation over cell phones and the Internet for more face-to-face conversation. 

His journey, called "Let's Talk," started from Washington, D.C. two weeks ago, and he plans to reach Los Angeles in about seven months. He has walked 200 miles to reach Roanoke. 

Andrews said one enjoyable aspect of his trip has been meeting many different people and speaking with them about his mission.

"It's really resonated with a lot of people I've spoken with, and I feel like I've left people with at least a prompt to think about this and to sort of talk about it with their friends," Andrews said. 

WDBJ7 Roanoke

'Man walking across country to encourage face-to-face communication'

BLUE RIDGE, Va. A recent college graduate is walking and talking across the country. His message is simple -- talk.

It's not every day a young man walks up to strangers just to have a conversation. But that's exactly what Chris Andrews wants to do.

"I'm crossing the United States on foot to highlight and celebrate the power of face-to-face conversations in a digital age," Andrews said.

Equipped with his yellow vest and carrier, he's talking to anyone he meets.

"The people that I've met along the way so far have been incredible," Andrews said.

A man Andrews met on his journey is on board with Andrews' project.

"I think it's great. More people need to get out and be more sociable than what they are," George Martin said. 

So far, he says people are excited to talk.

"It's nice to sit there and talk to somebody and have a conversation," Mark Mathis said.

"Especially a complete stranger, somebody you've never seen before or talked to before," Megan Mathis added. 

Here in Blue Ridge, people are genuinely interested in his mission and wish him well.

"As I approached Roanoke and came through Lynchburg there was such a curiosity about the trip and I have at least five to 10 people pulling over a day to just talk to me," Andrews said.

"I'm gonna stay in touch with him and see if he needs anything because I would like to see more of this happen," Martin said.

And that's more than OK with Andrews because that's what this walk is all about. 

"Making an effort every day to just be brave, put your phone down, and just go speak to someone," Andrews said.

ABC13 Lynchburg

'Recent college grad walking cross-country to inspire face-to-face communication'

LYNCHBURG, VA. (WSET) - A recent college graduate is walking to get a conversation going about having conversations. It's part of Chris Andrews' journey from DC to LA called "Let's Talk" instead of communicating with cell phones.

Only 11 days into his cross-country journey and he's walked more than 150 miles to have one big conversation with America.

"We're less willing to go speak to our neighbor, we're less comfortable with speaking face-to-face," said Andrews. He says we're disconnected from the connections that surround us.

Instead, Andrews says, we gravitate toward our phones and social media.

"There's something very safe about it, there's something very secure, there's an identity that's protected on the phone," said Andrews. But sometimes he says even he struggles with it. "It's always on you, it's in your pocket, so why not pull it out when you've got a second?" he said.

It's not the use of digital devices that worries him, but what is lost when we lose ourselves in it all. "You know, empathy, patience, these are all attributes that are really essential and I think that I started to notice that," he said.

Which is why he decided to walk instead of bike or drive the nearly 2,800 miles from D.C. to L.A.

"I wouldn't be talking to many people, you know, just before you guys got here I was talking to a man on the corner that I probably wouldn't have," said Andrews.

So far, he says people have positively responded, having conversations about conversation. "People like talking about this, I think it's something that is on their minds," he said.

Andrews stays in a tent that he carries in his cart that he usually pops in someone's yard.

He says people have been extremely generous and hospitable.

Next, Andrews is headed to Roanoke.

He still has around 2,600 miles to go and hopes to arrive in Los Angeles by March 1.

'Let's Talk'- TedX St Andrews

'Let's Talk' 

Chris' talk explores the lack of human connection currently faced in the digital world. His running project will emphasize the need for face-to-face interactions. Stemming from studies by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, research has uncovered that speaking to someone in person promotes empathy, teaches patience, and is a more effective way to communicate emotions. As a result, he hopes to inspire others to strike a healthy balance between technology and human interaction. 

The Saint

'Cross Country Conversation'

The Saint sat down with Chris Andrews to learn about his Let’s Talk project, which celebrates the power of face-to-face conversations.

His starting sentence: “When I graduate I’m not going to be getting a job or going to grad school, I’m going to be running across the United States on foot” is not something you hear every day.

Chris Andrews’s plans for after graduation are as ambitious as they are unconventional. This August, Mr Andrews will travel to Virginia Beach. Once there, he will embark on a 3,200-mile journey across America, reaching San Diego eight to nine months later. Along the way, he aims to “spark a national conversation about conversation”. By talking to as many people as possible, Mr Andrews strives to emphasise the benefits and joys of face-to-face conversations and ultimately to inspire people to think again about how they communicate.

Mr Andrews explained that the idea first stemmed from his “realisation that the way we communicate as humans now has changed more in the last twenty years than any time ever before.” He added that while the digital age has certainly brought great advances in communication, he “started to ask the question of what happens when we start to move face-to-face conversation to the backburner.”

Recent studies about the effect of digital communication on development of social skills make for worrying reading. In an article for The New York Times, Sherry Turkle cites a startling finding by a team at the University of Michigan that there has been a 40 per cent decline in empathy among college students. This decline, the bulk of which has occurred since 2000, seems to have accompanied the rise in usage of digital communication.

Mr Andrews concurs. Although he remains uncertain about the extent to which our social skills have been impacted, he says: “I am concerned that there is some lack of empathy when we’re relying on digital communication and moving away from face-to- face conversation.” In particular, Mr Andrews worries about the unconscious effect of taking “away the human on the other side… We start to detach ourselves from the consequences of what we’re doing and what we’re saying.”

However, instead of concluding that we should all throw our phones into the sea, Mr Andrews argues that acknowledging the benefits of face-to-face conversation need not mean giving up our use of social media. “It’s not at all that I condemn digital communication,” he said. “I am a proud user of social media. I am fully behind digital communication. It’s about finding that balance and about highlighting the power of face- to-face conversation today. I don’t want this trip to be about bashing technology. I more want to celebrate the incredible thing that is face-to-face conversation.”

What are the benefits of face-to-face conversations? Mr Andrews said: “If you think about how messages are communicated when you are face to face with someone, it’s about the body language. It’s about the facial expressions.” Mr Andrews added that businesses are coming to realise the effectiveness of face-to-face communication, which allows sales people to build a personal connection with customers.

The Let’s Talk project’s use of social media to spread its message has caused many to accuse Mr Andrews of hypocrisy. Mr Andrews admits that it is a “paradox” but adds: “We’re not condemning technology. It’s more about using it in the right way and… offering something that was produced by face-to-face conversations.” At the very least, Mr Andrews has got people talking.

Another common response to Mr Andrews’s project is disbelief. He admitted: “I don’t think I’ve met a single person who thinks we can do it.” The scale of the journey might well seem unimaginable, even when sensibly divided into a 15-mile-a-day target. However, the ambition of the Let’s Talk project extends beyond the length of the trek. Mr Andrews said the Let’s Talk project is also motivated by the desire to create “a portrait of America with thousands of face-to-face interactions… We’re going to be telling the untold stories of America and documenting the human condition of America right now.” Although Mr Andrews has intentionally left many of the details of the trip undecided until he officially sets out, he has ambitions of trying to record some of the conversations or even publishing a book at the end of their journey.

The combination of running and conversation may not seem immediately obvious to anyone whose memories of cross-country include more wheezing than chit-chat. However, Mr Andrews explained that the idea to run across the USA “came along because we wanted to return to the most basic form of transportation paired with the most basic form of communication.”

Mr Andrews pointed out that the decision to run also makes sense from a practical perspective. It is much more difficult to pull over a vehicle to talk to someone if they were to have chosen to cycle or drive across America. Instead, Mr Andrews will be pushing along a cart with their tent, sleeping bag and water.

Mr Andrews had only one worry about these carts. He tells the story of another runner who did a similar trek and found that people kept mistakenly assuming that the cart contained a baby, resulting in many judgmental looks for this inhumane treatment of the imaginary baby. Mr Andrews adds that he thinks he “might have to put a sign on our cart that we don’t have a baby inside.”

The Let’s Talk project aims to get as many people involved as possible by encouraging people to join Mr Andrews on his run. This goal encompasses both friends travelling to support and join him and strangers who he meets on his epic journey. On the project’s website, LetsTalkUSA.com, Mr Andrews states that whether you join him for a matter of minutes or days the project is open to anyone who is interested in sharing the experience. Another way he hopes to involve others is to contact local schools and invite running clubs, students and teachers to run with him. It is important to Mr Andrews that the project reaches out to “young kids today as it can highlight how crucial a skill” face-to-face communication is. Their generation is perhaps the one most dependent on technology and least familiar with good old chatting.

In preparation for the trek,  Mr Andrews has been busy preparing himself for the physical challenges and recently he spent a couple weeks walking over a 100 miles of the West Highland Way. Mr Andrews said that his training has made him more excited for the project to begin as “even just out there for a couple weeks I was feeling so clear.” He posed a rhetorical question: “You know how it is when you get out there for a little while?” Most of us have probably forgotten. Or have never known at all.

At the end of the month, Mr Andrews will be participating in TEDx St Andrews. In his talk, Mr Andrews plans to delve into “the effects of talking to someone face-to-face, on empathy, on patience” as well as outlining the run itself.

At its heart, Mr Andrews claims the message of Let’s Talk is simple. “I want to promise everyone that going out there and speaking to someone has incredible dividends in the way you feel, in the way that you understand yourself and others,” he said.