“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?”
Henry David Thoreau
I sat at Goose Island restaurant in O’Hare airport traveling solo. The waitress had taken my order and I blankly sat waiting for my meal. Muscle memory then kicked to remind me the ton of friends I was with — tons, in my phone of course. So thumb ready, I scrolled through the feeds of apps, got my quick entertainment high, and then sat staring blankly again.
I began though to observe around the diner, and the first thing I surveyed was two strangers on separate tables leaning toward the other having an engaged conversation.
It looked nice. It looked satiating? It looked…idyllic??
Whatever the description, I caught myself wanting that too, and more importantly, feeling I needed that. Not just for the given moment where I was alone, but in perpetuity, every day.
Moreover, it was a specific type of interaction. It wasn’t one constrained by the layers of a work environment or romantic setting. It was the zero-expectation, selflessly candid, human-to-human interaction sparked on the innocent discovery of shared values.
Unpacking these thoughts more, I traced it back to my mileage with social media.
- Whether it’s “fake news”, internet trolls, or breaches in privacy, we’ve been soaking in a progressively swampy climate concentrated more on polarizing hate and fabrication versus listening and understanding. We’re splintering in our trust with tech and really ourselves at-large.
- The more disappointing conception though is the cultural standard of “social peacocking” as Caterina Fake, renowned human-centric investor, best describes. The “look at me” rat race where vanity takes precedence and the depths of our complete existence are unattended to. Consequently, these superficial measures have eroded and in many ways discouraged our core social need to instinctively be our whole selves and deeply connect with the wholeness of those around us. We’re all wearing the same trendy pair of shoes that’s two sizes too small, and we need to really ask — why?
- This is then amplified by the last point, which relates to our dependency on these social systems. What was once controlled use has become compulsive use. We have a slot machine in our pockets that churns the intermittent veneer of variable rewards — of social validation, social approval, social proof — systematically engineered to manipulate with our psychology and make us addicted to attention (amazing read from ex-Google employee Tristan Harris). But it’s again, as noted in the prior paragraph, really about what we’re addicted to and what it’s all too comfortably replacing. Cal Newport, the heralded Marie Kondo of technology, frames this as “social snacking”. Our frictionless consumption of these shallow social engagements has normalized a bloated and complacent sense of belonging that, in reality, is an insufficient replacement to the deeper parts of our social wellbeing. From our evolutionary origins, strong social structures equated to survival. It is embedded in our DNA to sustain rich social interaction. That entails being present in our connections and sacrificing energy and time on behalf of friends, family, and communities — the stuff that actually builds firm meaning and cohesion in our relationships.
So to recap, there’s an air of distrust, a depreciation of our social dynamics as they intrinsically are, and it’s all done at massive frequency. And having reflected on the years this has calcified, especially as one guilty of such indulgence, it led me to understand why I felt the way I did at the airport and more revealingly, what I needed going forward — a solution intended for us all.
Introducing: Pretzly, the paleo social network.
We are the same social beings that have the same fundamental social needs 50,000 years ago. We just now have a shiny device and need to possess a more critical lens in repurposing it to enhance our underlying thread as human beings, not mere users. Like the actual paleo diet, all the figurative sugars and processed junk are stripped out. We instead focus on the more wholesome properties of human character — our knowledge, our experiences, and the unique stories that have stitched who we are today. We then channel regular opportunities for rich social interaction to unearth these identities through the more “ancestral”, pre-social media exchange of in-person dialogue, albeit designed with today’s contemporary standards. And the people with whom we have these candid conversations with? Strangers, naturally.
But why strangers you ask?
Strangers are outside of our orbit of relationships. Most of what we know and how we think is comparable across those within our orbit. When we intersect a different orbit, that of a stranger, we stretch our intellect and diversify our understandings of the world. And when we moreover have that magic moment in discovering a common thread to connect on, we magnify our perspective on life and realize—we’re just humans after all.
As is such then, we strive for every person to fluidly embark on his or her own personalized “Humans of New York” series. Ultimately through such recurrent encounters, we can reprioritize healthier habits in our lives, augment our sense of reality, and actualize our mission to inspire a kinder, more meaningful world.
So just as we exercise for physical health, let’s complement that routine and shift the state of mental health to one of mental wealth. Let’s modify our narrative with technology, together.
If this type of idea excites you, join our email list.
Hope to share a conversation with you soon.
— Chris, Founder of Pretzly