Stranger Danger

Posted on January 28, 2021. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I’ve always said that I enjoy interactions with strangers more than with people I know. Not in an extroverted bump into 50 people at a networking event kind of way, but rather the small glimpses of humanity that you get striking up a conversation on a park bench or with the barista who makes your coffee in the morning. New York thrives on these interactions. There’s a closeness that comes with this level of population density and shared context is everywhere. The thing about talking to a stranger is you can often see their humanity, without any of the baggage that undoubtedly accompanies it. You can be idealistic, and choose to see the most beautiful or interesting or kind facet of somebody, and keep it short enough, or far enough at a distance, that the assumption is rarely disproved.

I don’t talk to strangers to build enduring friendships or relationships. I talk to strangers to connect to humanity in a very pure and uncomplicated way. One of the hardest parts of the pandemic for me, beyond the obvious, has been this disconnect with strangers. When you see somebody on the street or in a park, the immediate response is “stranger danger.” If I don’t know you, get the fuck away from me is the mindset I and most maintain in these unfortunate times. There’s been a lot of focus on the lack of connection with friends or family, and those things are very real. In them, we also find humanity, albeit at a different depth and complexity, but I believe it’s been easier to maintain some semblance of that connectivity than it has connectivity with strangers.

Part of the disparity comes from a set of modern communication tools that give us the 80% substitute for known socialization. Zoom and signal and Facebook portal and even telephone have done wonders to combat what would otherwise be deeply crippling isolation. They are far from perfect, but they have played a righteous role in this time. Conversely, those same tools and ones like them don’t address interaction with strangers. The digital version of talking to someone on.a park bench 40 years older than you, from a different country, doesn’t really exist. There are, of course, digital watering holes, such as Clubhouse or Twitter, that approximate this conversation, but they are devoid of the intimacy and connection of irl.

Even more so than audio, live video communication presents the best primitive to enable intimacy with strangers, but a network based on this primitive has not yet emerged at any scale. There have been attempts at this that go back multiple startup generations. Chat roulette tapped this vein, and obviously devolved into something different. Sean Parker’s airtime hypothesized that shared context or “things to talk about” would enable this type of human discovery at a higher level of intimacy. When that product launched I could feel humanity in the branding and intention, but it wasn’t enough. The barriers to live, semi-real identity, video connection are high. There’s enough discomfort and inertia working against depth of interaction with strangers, that it takes a lot to “get there” via this medium.

Increasingly, it’s become clear to me that to find true intimacy with strangers online, and especially via video, the interaction requires facilitation. You see this at a clinical level in group therapy platforms like Pace.group. You see this at an admin level in conversations like Clubhouse (or even telegram, albeit lower fidelity). Where you don’t yet see it is in an open, high discoverability, video based network. I think this is happening in zoom to some degree, but discoverability of others is outsourced to off-platform assembly by an admin or guide or whatever you want to call it. I am looking for the live video based watering hole, that leverages the primitive of facilitated intimacy with strangers, and if you are building it I want to invest in it. Hit me up jordan@pacecapital.com.

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2 Responses to “Stranger Danger”

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Nice read. You capture what makes New York so appealing to me.

Not to say you can’t do this in other big cities but I’ve yet to find the same concentration of varied, quirky, driven people.

Very insightful post, thanks for sharing your thoughts


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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)

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