June 24, 2024

For this week’s Process Post, I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent encounter with a stranger in light of reading James Hamblin’s “How to Talk to Strangers,” and I’ve got some thoughts to share.

It wasn’t quite a new experience chatting with a complete stranger and watching him slowly become someone I would consider more familiar right before my eyes. It happened very organically about a mutual connection, of course, and slowly shifted to shared passions and eventually a conversation about a potential collaboration.

This interaction was far more personal and engaging than any I’ve had online. I have known friends for years online, yet I have yet to learn their name or what they look like. I may trust them and spend time with them, but outside the digital space, they still seem like strangers to me. I think there’s a certain body language and “vibe” that is impossible to feel through the digital space. There’s body language, tone of voice, mutual connection, and emotions. It’s an entirely different vibe.

Strangely enough, it made me realize how fluid a label can be. One minute he’s a random guy I spotted on the street; the next, he’s potentially my new photographer guy at the store.

It’s funny because online, I tend to keep people at ‘arm’s length’, as although I may have known them for a while or done activities together, the distance or disconnect from the physical makes me hesitant to understand their full intentions. In the grand scheme of things, this little physical encounter shouldn’t be the make it or break it factor in trust, as this is a stranger I have just met once, and my online friend, whom I have known objectively for years, should be more trustworthy. We interact, but the comfortable distance of the internet doesn’t rush us into labelling them as familiar.

This experience has opened my eyes to the dynamics of interactions in the real world versus the virtual one. It brought up the question that we can always find something in common with total strangers, like the weather or problems with the elevator being too slow, meaning everyone can be a possible friend; all it takes is a conversation.

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