Using the internet to enhance your social life

(and it doesn’t involve Facebook)

Meeting people on the internet

I recently read an article by Joshua Fields Milburn, one of “The Minimalists”:

“The people who were closest to me were the people who were, well, closest to me… We didn’t share similar values or beliefs — the bedrocks of any worthwhile relationship. In many cases we didn’t even share any common interests… My life is appreciably different now: I live more deliberately… Besides two of my closest relationships, I’ve met all my most meaningful relationships online… we met because of the Internet, and we see the world through similar lenses… our common interests allow us to forge bonds that are predicated on something much more significant than proximity.”

In the past, I have always thought that meeting people via the internet is a bit ‘weird’ and have been somewhat proud of the fact that, as an extrovert, I meet lots of new people in real life and never need to ‘stoop’ to that level. But this article made me re-think this.

The maths

Mathematically, it makes sense that the internet enhances your chances of finding people you are highly compatible, purely due to the scalability of establishing new connections.

For argument’s sake, let’s model compatibility as a percentage and divide people you meet into one of four quartiles; 0–25% being people you can’t stand, 25–50% being people you mildly dislike or feel ambivalence towards, and so on.

For any individual, the ratio of new people you meet falling in to different quartiles will be influenced by your personality as well as the context in which you meet them. For example, meeting through common interests or having a like-able personality may increase the chance of higher compatibility.

Ultimately your friend group is probably made up predominantly of people from the top and second quartiles, for obvious reasons.

Depending on your lifestyle you will meet more or less new people, but the limiting factor is how much time you have and the fact you can only be in one place at one time. However, this is not the case with the internet.

There is an incomprehensibly large number of people that you and I will never meet. Many of these will have a 90%+ compatibility with us. In the past we would never have met these people, as the initial connection would not be established.

As Tim Minchin articulately expresses with regards to dating:

“Your love is one in a million, you couldn’t buy it at any price..
But of the 999,999 other people statistically some of them would be equally nice.”

The internet means that initial connections can be established with vastly larger audiences. Compatibility can still only be truly determined by meeting people face to face to and over a period of time (so I’m not saying we should all start adding strangers on Facebook and get chatting), but the role of establishing the initial connection is important.

Real human connection requires face-to-face interaction and first impressions are an over-rated predictor of compatibility, so we must still spend time getting to know people away from the internet.

And of course a large aspect of compatibility is seeing things you appreciate in others, so I don’t advocate a continuous pursuit of new people because you’re not sure you like your current friends enough.

How can this be done?

In order to connect with people that you are highly compatible with through the internet the key requirement is to express your ‘authentic self’, which can be done in a huge variety of ways. For example, creating and sharing music, comedy videos or artwork but the possibilities are endless. However, it needs to be different to what most other people are doing — re-posting political articles, sharing videos or memes are not likely to establish deep connections.

One of my aims when I starting writing a blog was to establish such connections. Since I started writing last May, a lot of people who have read my writing have reached out and I’ve had many conversations and coffee dates as a result. A number of opportunities have also arisen in my professional life.

I’m hugely fortunate for this, as I love writing and would be doing so even if I couldn’t share it with others on a large scale.

The flip-side of any self-expression is that some people will make negative judgements. This is inevitable and will often prevent people from doing so.

Personally, I would rather have a smaller number of closer friends than a larger number of friends I connect with less strongly. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have made such good friends while in Cambridge but am aware this may not be the case after I leave.

Therefore, I will continue to write and may express myself in other ways. If my writing resonates with you and you feel we may have high compatibility, get in touch and let’s find out.

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