The surprising need for strangeness


“Don’t talk to strangers” has been a societal norm for centuries now, that we’ve quietly accepted and implemented into our lives in almost every level of interaction to other people. Google the word “strangers” on Google Images and you get the best visualization of the norm. And even though it seems that this norm has now lost its tremendous barriers by being challenged by the openness and global effect of the online world through social networks, sites and crowdsourcing, it still imposes a great deal of familiarity and alikeness.

Don’t talk to strangers

Reaching out to people that are not like us is harder than you might think, because the fundamental principle behind our online behavior is to develop social communities that are based on similarities among its members. Think for instance of social networks: You interact mostly with your friends, their friends or with strangers that happen to share the same interests as you do. You join online groups where discussions evolve around topics you are interested in, because these groups are recommended to you. Your online shopping activities work in a similar way: You keep receiving suggestions of items you can buy according to your previous purchases or simple searches. And the list of such examples can go on.

This behavior in fact goes against our own personal willingness, interest and need to be exposed to strangers and interact with people and things we don’t necessarily identify ourselves with, but can enormously learn from. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what the weak ties principle stands for: it defines acquaintances or people we don’t know as the real sources of novel information. The conclusion: Embracing strangeness is not so much in our control.

The surprising need for strangeness

As you might also think and feel by now, other people have felt this societal pressure too and decided to take actions against it. The “People Person” for instance, an interesting and a bit controversial character due to his initial rage against the people he had already met, started a blog called Talk to Strangers, where he talks about his experiences, ups and downs of talking to strangers. A fun and good read that get’s you ready for embarking in such an “adventure” and cited by BBC as the initiator of the “facetime” movement.

The Strangers Project, an idea that started off on the streets of Michigan where Brandon Doman decided to give passers-by a marker and a piece of paper and encourage them to write a short story about their lives. Four years and more than 5000 stories later, the project is an incredible collection of anonymous journal entries worth discovering and why not adding to your personal list of to dos. Although the project is not implying direct interaction between people, it definitely is one of the multiple faces of embracing strangeness.

In the same direction, but more visual, the blog “A Stranger A Day” tells stories of strangers through their tattoos. Marianela Capelo, the initiator of the project had the courage to talk to strangers … about their tattoos. Have a look at this wonderful collection of art.

Do you know any other projects like these ones? If you do, please share them with us and we’ll make sure to write about your suggestions. But now, what do all these ideas have in common? The courage to strike up conversations with people you don’t know – a proof that the need for strangeness exists against the reality that pushes us against it.

Talk to strangers

So how can we release the barricade against strangeness if society and the creators of all the contexts we’re living in are all dictating the directions we should move towards and the behaviors we should approach towards other people?

Maria Bezaitis, principal engineer at Intel gave a talk where she underlines the lack of strangeness in our lives and proposes solutions to this problem. Her talk is a call for technology to deliver us what and who we need, even if it’s unfamiliar. Check it out and tell us about the last time you talked to a stranger.


Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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