Jonathan Solichin
Aug 23, 2016 · 5 min read
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BeAuthentic is an iOS app that helps you learn more about yourself and others by providing insightful questions for you to answer and ask, in the app, or in real life. Download in the app store today. See the source on GitHub.

Encouraging Meaningful Relationships

As humans, our deepest desire is to connect with others. Facebook made ~$17 billion on this in 2015.

About a year ago, I read the New York Times article entitled The 36 Questions That Lead to Love which recounted an old study that suggests that two strangers can fall in love by going through a series of questions. It spoke of the lost art of building relationships through heart-to-heart conversations. In a world where relationships are built on “least resistances” (like buttons, stickers, emojis, etc.) it was refreshing to be reminded of a more honest way.

The 36 questions were perfect. As an ENTP, I always want to solve puzzles, and human relationship, is the biggest puzzle of all. I started wondering what other questions can be asked to help build relationships. Can it be used to build other types of relationships (friendships, careers, acquaintances)? How can we engage in better conversations that lead to lasting and meaningful relationships?

Conversations → Relationships → Care

Meaningful relationships are critical because it’s the difference between a selfish world, and a caring one. Relationships come from conversations, and conversations come from stories. This act fosters empathy as the participants step into each other’s lives, which in turn encourages care and generosity.

The reason you are more likely to help your broke college roommate than the homeless man down the street is because you don’t know his story (why is he homeless? Down on his luck or lazy?). I explored more of this with Betty Shen and Amethyst Zhang in Twine.

To be clear, this is NOT a “Silicon Valley will end world hunger through an app” plot. This is my humble baby step to thinking about how we can create a more empathetic world by increasing the number of meaningful relationships — in this case, through conversations seeded by good questions.

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BeAuthentic helps you find interesting questions to ask, whether you are in an interview, on a date, or ice breaking a party. You can also supercharge a dull conversation by quickly getting a random engaging question to ask.

Conversations, Not Small Talk

Mind you, relationships require more than two people just answering questions. In order for the conversation to have any real value, both parties must be honest and be willing to share their story, unfiltered. Without this willingness, the answers are non-personable and thus create no significant bond, since it isn’t representative of the individual and it isn’t unique. Arguably this is one of the main problems with social media today: it’s so public that it encourages showmanship and thus lead to self-curation.

Of course, you can’t be honest without trust. If you’re always concerned whether someone might spread your personal story, you wouldn’t be inclined to share. This was Snapchat’s pièce de résistance. In a world where everything is recorded and displayed, their snaps disappear and are only visible to specifically chosen people, all whilst hindering screenshot taking (aka sharing).

These two parts, honesty and trust, continually feed into each other to create a relationship. Each back and forth becomes a strand, slowly building a bond.

Additionally, participants must be equally invested. If there’s only one sharer, either the listener will feel that the sharer doesn’t care about the listener’s own story, OR the sharer will feel like the listener doesn’t trust him/her. Either way, it is a spectacle, and not a conversation. A rope which is strong only on one end, is not a strong rope at all. Meaningful relationships are two way streets.

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BeAuthentic allows you to privately write your thoughts, or publically share them with the world, but only shares it with those who have shared their answers publically too— thereby making sure relationships are two-way streets where trust and honesty can flourish.

Beneficial Side Effects

Interestingly, a side effect of sharing with others is learning about oneself; you can’t share if you do not first know. 20 years ago, the philosopher Balthasar suggested that we are rapidly moving toward a society of Anima Technica Vacua, literally: technical soul empty — that our understanding of the self is being eroded as modernity and technology wipes away the time for introspection. How much truer today, when you are not seen as successful lest you have a side-hustle?

Finally, by focusing on creating two way relationships, rather than a “follower” oriented one, we get to find others with similar stories to our own. Since we don’t feel like we have to represent an idealistic view of the self, we can expose ourselves just as we are. This is important since we often feel stuck and frustrated because we feel alone and that there’s nobody like us. That no one understands. When in reality, many have the same problems, but they too are forced to hide it. Healing often comes through a listening ear, and finding support through someone similar (e.g. Alcoholic Anonymous, TWLOHA, Project Semicolon, #firstsevenjobs, #nomakeup, etc.)

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BeAuthentic provides a question of the day to help users get to know themselves, even beyond a social context. Profile pages allow you to keep track about your self-growth, as well as follow the journey of others and listen to what else they have to say.

BeAuthentic Encourages You to Be Authentic

In a world focused on self curation, where churning is the norm, and where relationships often rely on emojis and gifs, I want to encourage myself, and hopefully others to think and share a little deeper.

I hope that by reflecting a little bit more, and sharing a little bit more, that I can have better relationships. Relationships where I can truly be known.

It is when the world does this, I believe, that we can truly walk in someone else’s shoes and care for one another.

In Part 2, I will discuss the design details & process of BeAuthentic. Stay tuned!

Hero photo from Kevin Curtis via Unsplash. iPhone6 image from Pixeden.

Thanks to Nicholas Solichin, Kevin Lin, Tiajha Nakahara, Jason Jong, Ann Ma, Alex Lu, Pearlyn Lii, Jennifer Wu, for their help in thinking about this project. And of course, as always, special thanks to Nadia Ho for her continual support throughout the whole project.

Follow me at: Website, Twitter, GitHub, Instagram

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