Social Skills, Spotlight

My New Policy on Bars

I like bars. I like alcohol. Drinking is my vice and I accept that about myself. There are few activities I like doing with friends as much as chatting over wine, beer or good liquor.

But some bar experiences I really, really don’t like. Usually the really busy kind. It’s hard to explain this to enthusiastic friends, so I say things like “I’m an introvert” or “I prefer small groups” or “it isn’t my scene.” Those basically all assume that I’m the weirdo and that a different or more well adjusted human being would fit right in.

But this piece by Tim Urban at Wait But Why says I’m not the problem. His thesis is that a cool bar, on a busy night, is by definition a bad life experience. It’s bad no matter who you are because of the combination of loud, dark and crowded:

The first moment you walk into a scene like this brings a distinct mix of dread and hopelessness. It’s an unbearably loud, dark, crowded cauldron of hell, and nothing fun can possibly occur here.

After wedging your coat into a nook in the wall and saying goodbye to it for the last time, it’s time to go get your first drink. You were the first one of your friends to walk in the door, so you’re in the lead as your group works its way through the crowd, which means you’re the one who’s gonna drop the worst $54 a human can spend on a round of drinks no one will remember. But that’s the end goal—first, you need to figure out how to get through the three layers of people also trying to order drinks.

The problem isn’t the frat-ish guys or any of the other stuff people usually blame. The bar gets 0% more fun if it’s all interesting people in there, because you can’t have meaningful contact with any of them. The problem is the specific combination of being loud, dark, and crowded.

There are a couple of exceptions to this:

  • If you’re young and just the sensory experience of a cool crowded bar is awesome because it’s like you’re coming of age
  • If you are there primarily to dance—like for real, you’re going to be moving on the dance floor the whole time. But it better be some truly earth-shattering dubstep or really trancey house music, or the L/D/C mix will still make it terrible.

When I think about it, Loud/Dark/Crowded is the common factor of every bar I’ve ever disliked. Sure I’m an introvert, but I’ll have a good time with my friends and even talk to strangers if it’s not loud and not crowded. I do like small groups, but I’m fine with 100 people at a large house party with a quieter atmosphere.

So I’m posting this here first of all so you can go read the hilarious full article. But secondly because this is my new policy whenever I get invited out. I’m just not going to Loud/Dark/Crowded bars anymore. And when someone asks me why I don’t want to go, I’m not going to say it’s because it’s not my scene, I’m going to say “It’s because loud, dark, crowded bars are never fun.” I’m going to say it like it’s a scientific fact.

Full piece: Why You Secretly Hate Cool Bars

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Philosophy, Social Skills, Spotlight

I thought it was rude but Noam Chomsky said it’s okay

Photo by Antoine Walter

A man and a woman are at a bus stop. I’m the man, and a woman is the woman.

A minute passes. I decide to say something.

“Are you familiar with Noam Chomsky?”

The woman looks at me, but doesn’t immediately understand. It’s normal to strike up a conversation when you’re stuck waiting with someone. But she expected something like “Hot out, isn’t it?”

It sinks in, though.

“Um, sort of,” she says. “I know the name.”

“Noam Chomsky is a linguist,” I say anyway. “He studies language.”

“Oh.”

“Noam Chomsky says that when two people are near each other, it’s almost impossible for them not to start talking to each other. He says that even if it’s strangers at a bus stop, we have this powerful urge to just start talking, just because we’re stuck together.”

The woman nods and says something very polite.

“But I disagree with Mr. Chomsky. I think some people have this trait and others don’t. I personally hate talking to strangers. Sometimes I even hate talking to my friends. I like them, I just don’t want to talk all the time. I’d rather pretend to be alone, and just think. Or read a book on my phone.”

She’s actually listening now, and she’s tilted her head and opened her mouth, but doesn’t seem quite sure what to say. I go on.

“So what I’m asking you,” I asked, “Is are you the kind of person who wants to talk to strangers? Or are you the kind of person who would rather I just shut the hell up?”

Transmission Lost

This theory really is one of Chomsky’s, although I’m sure that in the literature he has already accounted for the variation between introverts and extroverts. (Let’s not rehash that topic, internet.) The reason I bring it up is that it’s made me feel slightly better about one of my worst qualities.

One of my worst qualities is that I don’t listen to people, and I don’t like to talk to them either. Don’t get me wrong; if you’re a friend and we’re having a good conversation, and I’m making eye contact with you, my head is 90% in the game. I hear you. But if you can see my eyes twitching toward my computer screen, or a book, or the ingredients I’m chopping, or any other task I decided voluntarily to be involved in before you started talking to me against my will, it’s a sure bet that André is safe in his private inner life and the only person hearing you is my auto-responder.

If you are a stranger, the chance of getting the auto-responder is very, very high.

During these exchanges my number one goal is finding a way to exit the conversation: either an excuse to leave, or a body language cue that will get you to shut up. Really anything just so I can go back to spending my mental energy on what I wanted to spend it on, instead of using it to either filter out your attack or (worse) actually engage what you’re saying.

I consider this a worst quality of mine not just because it’s disgustingly rude, but also because it seems like a failing of my mind itself. Maybe a better meditater would be more present in all conversations, and a more spiritual, compassionate heart would truly listen to strangers.

Being “present” is, I suppose, a sign of a sharp mind. Caring is a sign of a good person.

So I’ve always secretly loathed this run-from-contact side of myself. But Noam Chomsky has given me a reason to reconsider.

Noam says (and seriously, you should read this interview) that language is not primarily designed to communicate. Language mostly helps us shape our thoughts, and talking to other people is really just kind of a side-job.

Which means that a lot of our out-loud talking is also not designed to communicate.

The example he gives is the bus stop. The two people just feel compelled to talk to (at) each other, just to fill up the time. Or, as Chomsky says, to solidify social relations. The small talk lets them establish that they are friendly, not creepy, and maybe it also establishes their relative importance to each other. (I made that up, by the way; I don’t know if that’s what Chomsky means by “solidify social relations.”) So they end up talking about the football score, the weather, where each person grew up. They shoot the shit.

“You don’t care, they don’t care, you’re not trying to transmit any information,” Chomsky says.

Moving the Conversation

This is a great source of relief for me. Because, you see, I always thought that you do care when you’re prattling at me. I thought the NFL draft really meant a lot to you, or that you were hoping I would have an interesting response. That you were disappointed that I don’t like football and all your hopes for making a new friend just got dashed.

I thought you really cared.

(Or in the case of truly meaningless talk like the weather, I thought that you hoped I’d say something clever and we’d hit it off.)

I thought all this because I am not wired to talk immediately to anyone I happen to be near, so the reason why other people do it has always been a mystery to me.

But Chomsky says you don’t really care. You don’t care any more than I do what we’re talking about, or how I respond (unless I suddenly get really offensive, I suppose). You’re just saying things out loud because it makes you feel good.

Which means that really, when a stranger is making chit-chat, they are broadcasting garbage at me. My auto-responder is exactly the amount of my mental effort they deserve, because they’re just burping words near me for their own personal comfort. Not only am I not the asshole in this scenario, I’m sort of the victim.

Now I can’t deny that my own strange impulse—looking for any way to get out of the conversation, quickly—may be just as annoying to them as the word burping is to me. But at least now we’re in this together, both of us doing selfishly whatever we can for our own ease of comfort, with little regard for the other. I don’t really feel too bad about that.

With a friend it’s a little different. I can indulge a friend who needs to off-gas some words for their peace of mind. Maybe they had a bad day at work or an argument with their parents. But when I find myself daydreaming, I’m not really cheating them out of the great gift of my considered opinion. I’m giving them exactly what they want, which is someone who will listen while they put their thoughts “on paper” (paper being my ear) and organize what they think and feel about the situation. Chances are, any seeming clarity they get comes from that process of venting it all out—not from any advice I give.

Looking back over my life, my habit of not listening seems to always happen when the other person is broadcasting junk, when they aren’t really trying to transmit meaningful two-way communication. That tells me two things:

  1. Instead of feeling guilty about not paying much attention, I suppose I can feel comfortable with it. I’m giving them what they need (someone who will let them talk) without pretending they need anything more.
  2. If I can move a conversation toward meaningful two-way dialogue, as I did with the woman at the bus stop in the beginning of this essay, I will actually enjoy the conversation.

This is where I’d like your opinion (in a meaningful, two-way sense). The auto-responder may be just what someone needs, but what is the limit? When does it become just as rude as I always feared it was?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Andre Sólo, Favorites, Social Skills

How to Use Twitter (and why it beats FB)

“Another Drew Jacob shortcut,” I breathed.

We were covered in mud, bites, sweat, bruises and just about everything except the tangy salt of a day in the ocean. It was a 6 mile bike ride to the hidden beach but I found a shortcut on a map. (I love shortcuts.) We never got there.

I didn’t write the story of that exhausting day, but I did drop a hint:

Tweet03

Earning Its Keep

Many people are surprised that Twitter is my favorite (now only) social network. I never run out of friends who say, “I don’t need to hear what someone had for breakfast today,” or “I don’t get Twitter.”

I can’t help you fix what other people tweet about—though if they tweet about their breakfast, you’re following the wrong people—but I can help explain Twitter: how it works, why I like it more than Facebook, and how to get the most out of it.

Unlike Google+, Twitter is not a Facebook clone. It’s a profoundly different tool that does different things. It’s less about stalking friends/family and more about knowing what’s going on in the world—or making connections with new people.

In many ways, Twitter is for “advanced” internet users. Every tweet is limited to 140 characters—nothing more. That forces you to think about what you’re saying, and how to say it succinctly and well.

Here are the advantages Twitter has, that make it my favorite social media site:

  • Simpler. Twitter is the simplest and most streamlined social site. Everything happens in one column, and everything works the same way: no “pages,” “groups,” “causes,” “games” or anything else. You can share websites or pictures, but only as links in your tweet. It’s simple.
  • Not as addictive. Interacting on any social site gives you a hit of dopamine, just like chatting with a friend does. But some sites are designed to try to hold your eyes on the screen as long as possible. Twitter doesn’t do that. Brands can’t build their own on-Twitter presence, so any link you share is an external link. Unlike G+, Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter doesn’t try to keep you there.
  • Less clingy. On Facebook, if a real-life friend tries to friend you and you don’t accept, you’re rude; if you un-friend someone it’s a statement. On Twitter, “following” is not a personal judgment. I don’t follow all my friends and I unfollow people freely. It’s more like a news source or a chat room, and less like a yearbook.
  • Higher quality content. Twitter forces you to curate your content. All the factors above—the short, to-the point format; the easy-to-leave website; the social acceptability of unfollowing—combine to incentivize smart, funny or interesting tweets. On Facebook if you write boring/annoying posts, I stay your friend because we went to 4th grade summer school together. On Twitter, if you write boring posts you lose followers.
  • Ads aren’t intrusive. Twitter sometimes places a single “sponsored” tweet at the top of your stream. It always identifies itself as sponsored and they are never aggressive or deceptive. Thank you, Twitter!
  • Builds new relationships. Because Twitter is not a friends-only platform, it’s easy to meet new and interesting people. On Facebook, if I send a friend request to someone I don’t know, it’s weird—and J.K. Rowling will never friend me back. On Twitter, instead of waving at existing friends, it’s normal to make fascinating new ones or have conversations with people you admire.

Basically, Twitter gives you much more power over what comes your way. Twitter can be used to keep up with friends, but it’s a more fluid platform that lets you focus on meeting who you want to meet, or reading what you want to read.

Nuts and Bolts

There are many Twitter how-to’s out there, but the basic concepts to understand are:

  • When you “follow” someone, you can see all their tweets. They might not follow you back.
  • You can tweet at anyone, by putting @theirusername (for example) in your tweet, even if you don’t follow each other. They will see this.
  • Hashtags are helpful. Instead of tweeting, “I blog about adventure,” I could tweet, “I blog about #adventure” and other people looking for that hashtag (#adventure) would easily find me. (Punctuation breaks hashtags: if you try #isn’tlifecrazy you actually create the hashtag #isn, which makes no sense.)
  • Follow people you find interesting and don’t pressure them to follow you.
  • Not sure who to follow? Search by interesting hashtags, or follow the Twitter accounts of your favorite writers. Mine is @Rogue_Priest (surprise).

@Rogue_Priest

How I Use It

I’ve been using Twitter since I still had a job. I’ve always found it to be a more valuable tool than any other social network. That’s partly because of the reasons above, but it’s also how I use it.

I’ve developed practices to maximize what I get from Twitter. Because of this, I enjoy reading it as much as you might enjoy the Sunday paper. I often start a morning with my coffee and my stream, catching up on killer articles Twitter has brought my way—it’s a relaxing experience, with reading material tailored just to me.

Here are my best practices. These are just my own preferences—you might use your account differently than I do.

  • Privacy settings. I once heard author Tessa Zeng tell someone, “If you set your Twitter account to private, you’re not actually using Twitter,” and she’s not wrong. By default, anyone can see your tweets (whether they follow you or not) and anyone can follow you (you don’t get to accept or deny it like a FB friend request). Keep these settings—you’ll build more followers, meet more people, and have a reason not to say nasty things in your tweets.
  • I don’t follow everyone I know. Like any social media tool, Twitter can search your email contacts and suggest people for you to follow. Take a pass on that. Think about specific people you find interesting and follow them. You’ll have less noise and get a lot more value out of your stream.
  • When someone follows me, I don’t follow back. When I started on Twitter I thought it was good etiquette to follow back everyone who followed me. Anything else would be rude, right? Wrong. It’s not an insult to not follow someone back. Only follow them if you think they’re interesting, or if their profile and tweets are tantalizing.
  • Never follow companies. Why would you?
  • Follow less than 100 people. This is a longstanding rule for many Twitter users, and it pays off. Checking Twitter should be a relaxing experience where you see things that make you grin—not a stressful experience with more noise than signal. If you find yourself approaching 100, take a few minutes to trim off the ones you don’t really pay attention to.
  • I don’t use lists. Optionally, Twitter allows you to create “lists” to sort and organize the people you follow. I never use them—they just take more time and effort, and they’re never needed if I follow less than 100 people. (I do look at other people’s lists to find the folks they think are interesting.)
  • Retweet often. Anytime you find yourself enjoying a link that someone tweeted, RT it (giving them credit) so your own followers can enjoy it.
  • I make a point of tweeting things I like. I read online a lot, and anytime I like an article or site, I make a point to shorten its URL and tweet it with a snappy headline and a little comment.

A retweet.

Clearly, these are my own habits that support how I prefer to use Twitter—as a place to find and share high quality articles, and have meaningful conversations with the people I respect.

You might use Twitter differently, or not like using it at all. There won’t be any pressure for Rogue Priest readers to use Twitter—even as I leave Facebook you can subscribe to the site via email or RSS (check the right-hand sidebar of this very page).

But if you want to have more contact with me, or if you want to put my claim to the test and see if Twitter can be as useful for you as it is for me, then these are the habits I suggest. I believe they’ll help make your experience with Twitter far more meaningful. They’ll definitely help you beat the learning curve and avoid the frustration of many beginning users.

Are you on Twitter? Leave a comment with a link to your account. I’ll follow you for a week to see if I dig what you share.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Andre Sólo, ExPostModern, Social Skills

Why a Facebook Advocate is Leaving Facebook

I write this from a patio in the Dominican Republic. The street here is an obstacle course. You walk out to buy coffee, but you’re attacked by one, five, eight people offering you things. What they offer is not what you want, and they don’t know that because they don’t ask. If you tell them what you want, they say they have it—even if they don’t.

It’s a lot like Facebook in 2013.

Confessions

How I Started

A lot of people don’t like Facebook. Some always hated it, some never even tried it out. I’m not one of those people.

I was a latecomer, but when Facebook was explained to me I took to it quickly. It was especially valuable when I started to travel, connecting me to faraway friends and family. Some people complain when their mom joins Facebook; I convinced mine to.

Now I’m leaving it behind.

Facebook no longer serves my needs, neither as an individual looking to keep in touch socially nor as an author seeking to promote my work. I’m phasing out Facebook completely, and shifting my focus to other, better designed social media networks.

This will reduce the amount of traffic I get to Rogue Priest, and it may adversely affect my work. I’m doing it anyway. In this post I hope to explain why: what’s wrong with Facebook, why it doesn’t work for me and what that means for me as a writer.

[Privacy Disclaimer]

This decision has nothing to do with “privacy.” There’s a lot of fear about how Facebook uses personal data, and I don’t share that fear. I knowingly consent to let Facebook use my anonymous metadata. That metadata lets them give me better friend recommendations, return better search results and generally improve my user experience.

As far as their privacy policy goes, I’d give Facebook an “A.”

I also have no qualms with social media as a technology. It doesn’t scare me that people are online a lot. Go ahead and check your phone at dinner—you’ll catch me doing it. Today, digital space is more like an extension of geographic space; there is no competition between engaging the digital and engaging the “real world.” At least, there doesn’t have to be.

You might feel differently than me. Maybe it’s deeply disturbing that children are learning cool things from an intuitive touch screen instead of rickety film strips. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of their opinions. Even if I find those opinions reactionary.

But I personally am very comfortable with the expostmodern world we’re creating.

What’s Wrong With Facebook?

If I’m so pro-social media, why am I pulling Rogue Priest off of Facebook?

Because it’s not the best tool for the job, and I’m using other tools instead.

Facebook has, quite simply, become a terribly unhelpful social site, one that’s no longer fun or functional. For example:

1. Cluttered layout.

I just opened Facebook in another tab and counted. It has 12 different toolbars, streams, widgets and panels spread across five different screen areas. That is ridiculous, especially since eye tracking studies show that we only look at the faces and words of our friends and ignore all the other content.

The layout of Facebook reveals two problems with the site: it’s trying to do too much, and it’s organizing it poorly.

Compare this with the smooth, streamlined layout of Twitter. Twitter has 6 panels spread across only three screen areas. They strike you as a single stream with one sidebar. I feel more relaxed just looking at it.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

 

2. Emphasis on ads.

Ads belong on social media sites. We-the-users are the product, not the customer—ad sales are how our networks stay afloat. That’s better than charging me for it.

But I resent advertising that conflicts with functionality. As a kid National Geographic outraged me because I could never find the table of contents amidst all the ads. It was intentional, because that’s prime real estate. And Facebook’s grabby ad-fingers are intentional as well. But now the real estate isn’t paper, it’s my eyeballs. Hands off my eyeballs, Facebook.

Facebook uses three main methods to advertise. First, the ad bar on the right side of the screen. Okay. Second, “sponsored” posts that appear in my main news feed and masquerade as shares from friends. It’s like sending a salesman in disguise to my birthday party. (This is icky.)

Third and most backwards, Facebook artificially adjusts the sharing ecosystem so that non-paid content reaches fewer people. While this seems fair, it artificially overrides supply-and-demand. That makes any system inefficient (and alienates people). Facebook doesn’t just add sponsored posts to my news feed, it down-regulates how many posts I see out of the ones I want to see.

This is frankly a strategic failure. Aside from haughtily disregarding user preference (and potentially losing eyeballs to sell), it also alienates advertisers and content producers, the people that Facebook makes money off of. The cost of reaching Facebook users is ever escalating, while the value of reaching them declines—because they won’t keep seeing your regular unpaid content after they “like” you.

3. It’s buggy.

There are numerous glitches and poor functionality choices involved in Facebook, especially for a Page that wants to use it as a promotional tool. I don’t mean the aesthetic choices like switching to Timeline, I mean things like no longer being able to edit a post (you can edit comments, not posts); complicated notification settings; and the fact that unfriending someone doesn’t unsubscribe them from your feed, so under most privacy settings they can still see what you say.

(I had a lot more examples but they made this article too long. Please leave a comment and tell me what features you don’t like about Facebook!)

My impression is that Facebook began as a well designed site. It declined due to function sprawl, poor design choices, too much emphasis on ads, no unified vision for the site, and trying to cater to too many users.

It really is Facebook’s success that crippled it. Facebook wants to be everyone‘s social media site. It’s so padded, so crude, so addictive that even people who can barely turn on a computer decide to make a profile and check it every day. It should be obvious that more fluent internet users are going to want something more (or something less) from their go-to online channel.

Facebook hoped to be the village bicycle and it has succeeded, with all the pros and cons that that sweaty seat entails.

The Users Don’t Help

While the site itself is the source of many frustrations, the way people use Facebook has changed too—and not for the better.

Sometime in early 2012, almost overnight, there was a huge uptick in sharing images as status updates. Not photos from your phone, but motivational or “funny” images cribbed from the web. I don’t know if this corresponded to some change Facebook rolled out (easier image sharing?) but it forever changed what I get from my friends’ feeds.

I like my status updates pithy and amusing, but at the very least personal—which they are if you write them yourself. When you use a meme, joke image, or poster as your status I feel less like I’m talking to you (social media) and more like I’m looking at a bulletin board you assembled (your waiting room).

Facebook meme

During some peak times, the majority of the statuses I see are memes. Many are poorly worded, fall flat on their jokes or are purposefully inflammatory. I guess that’s what happens when a site becomes less about social contact, and more like a place to collect bumper stickers.

[Friends and family: I love all you guys. I just like hearing what you have to say more than I like looking at posters together.]

I also see more fake names—officially forbidden by Facebook rules, but hard to enforce—which makes the site harder to use and exacerbates the use of inflammatory content.

What’s Best as a Writer

My main purpose in using social media is to share my work. My hope is that more people will find it, read it, and enjoy it, ultimately resulting in a larger audience. As a philosopher, a larger audience means more dialogue which helps me refine my ideas. And it bolsters my ability to make a living through my chosen art.

Facebook complicates this. The complication is more than the difficulty in sharing nonpaid content, or the buggy, poorly designed structure. It comes down to integrity.

Facebook feels like a crowded, cheap, tourist trap of a bar. If I don’t want to be there, why do I want my content there? And more important, why would I direct my readers to go there?

No part of my writing career has to be enmeshed in a large time-wasting machine. And neither does your life.

It hurts to know that I’ll lose web traffic. My blogging is unpaid, and the only return I get is in the form of engagement with readers. When a lot of people read and engage my work I feel good; when few people do, I feel sad.

But I still choose to live and create on my own terms. I’ll change to other, better social media and hope to build my traffic back long-term. And maybe then it won’t be so dependent on a single, unhealthy source.

Perhaps we are more than fuel in someone else’s ad machine.

Follow me @Rogue_Priest for more updates.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Personal Development, Social Skills, Writing

Spending Respect

There’s a subset of the population that values manners in all things. They don’t use diminutive nicknames for the politicans they hate. When they sense invective and personal attacks they shy away from it, even the causes they agree with. This type of person can be among the strongest allies you’ll ever have if you take the time to phrase what you say in a measured way. If they speak up for you and support you, it’s because they agree with you at a deep level, and their loyalty is long-lasting.

There is also a subset of people who value vim and fire and can be rallied with anger. It’s easy to enlist their aid by spreading profanities, sarcasm, personal insults, and trigger phrases. This type of person isn’t there for you, they’re there for what they get out of it. Something emotional drives their engine whether they admit it or not. They can leave you as quick as they showed up. They are as likely to create turmoil as they are to actually help you.

You choose which kind of person you attract by the way you speak your truth. This applies at all levels, from how you fight with your ex to how you organize, grow, and advance a vast movement.

It’s worth considering which kind of base you feed with your words.

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Mexico City, Personal Development, Social Skills

I Have Been Challenged

“I didn’t know you were such a wallflower.”

I looked over at Mauricio. He seemed dead serious. Wallflower? Me? My wallflowerin’ days are long over.

“You smug Mexican bastard. What the hell are you talking about?”

He grinned.

The Very Best Way

Mau had noticed that I don’t go out much. If he has a late night, chances are when he comes home I’m typing away at my laptop, reading, or studying Spanish.

“Why don’t you go out and make some friends?”

“Well, what would I say? My Spanish is terrible.”

He just kept grinning.

“Okay, Mr. Adventurer. I have a challenge for you.”

Mauricio had read this post. In it, I challenged myself to learn to strike up conversation with strangers. (I also did a second challenge, where I had to follow up with the people I met.) He decided this would be “the best way for you to learn Spanish.”

More likely it’s the best way to irritate three random residents of Mexico City. Still, I was intrigued. Going out and talking to total strangers, across a language barrier? That’s got to at least lead to some great stories, and who knows, maybe it really will help my Español.

The Terms of the Challenge

“You have to talk to three people you don’t know. Total strangers. You can’t choose people you think speak English. And no asking me or Gabe to translate.”

Okay, three people. I can do that. It sounds like three new friends to me. As with my original challenge, the following people don’t count:

  1. Anyone whose job is to talk to me. Cashiers, waiters – they’re paid to be nice to me. Making extra small talk with them can be a good warm-up, but that’s all.
  2. Anyone I’m introduced to. If I have an introducer, they’re not strangers. Time to cowboy up.
  3. People I have a reason to talk to. If we’re both at a party or we have a mutual interest in meeting new people, it doesn’t actually force me out of my comfort zone.

To these, Mauricio added one more condition:

If there is any kind of offer for follow up, if they invite you to a party or anywhere else, you have to accept.

Deal, mi hermano. Deal.

Results in 1 week. Please tweet and share this post.

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Social Skills, WDS

The Greatest Weapon for World Domination

I used to be terrible at talking to people. In fact, I was terrible at anything social. My strategy for parties was to stick close to one friend. I’d follow them like a puppy dog if need be. My strategy for everything else was to only talk to people I already knew.

I was not just an introvert. Introverts are often great socially; they just like it in short bursts. I was an introvert who was shite at talking to anyone.

I’ve talked before about the value of social bravery and how I trained my skills. In the last few years I’ve become a lot more extroverted, and a lot better at talking to new people. But last week it was time to put it to the ultimate test.

Last week, for the first time, I touched down in Portland, Oregon. My mission: to take over the world.

The World Domination Summit

The occasion was the World Domination Summit, organized by the remarkable Chris Guillebeau. Chris is a powerful writer who pens a soft, honest voice but advocates big ideas. I’ll gladly admit that his (free) ebook 279 Days to Overnight Success is perhaps the single biggest influence on the shape this blog has taken.

The purpose of the World Domination Summit (WDS) was, essentially, to bring together hundreds of the most awesome people possible. I’ve really never seen anything like it. The event had the format of a conference, but it was not industry-specific, nor tied to any one issue or topic. The main thing uniting the attendees is that we believe in Chris’ message of unconventional strategies for life, work and travel.

The result is that a wide variety of people were present. Entrepreneurs and moguls, writers and artists, digital nomads, bloggers, the list goes on. Some are just starting out, others are established names. But what we all have in common is we are innovative, creative types—and we take no prisoners.

Photo credit: Armosa Studios

500 of your Biggest Fans

Chris frames all of his greatest projects in terms of changing the world. Out of the many people using that phrase, he’s one of the few I believe.

But the people I met at WDS have the same ambition. Every person there has some kind of project or dream, and they’re actually doing them. (They’re also very ExPoMod.) The effect? When you talk about your wildest, craziest dream, what you get is a sea of people pitching in with advice, suggestions, and ideas for how you can do it.

For example, my great dream is to walk from Minneapolis to South America. When I tell people about my dream, I’m used to getting a few responses:

You know it’s not safe, right?

Good luck crossing all those borders.

You won’t be able to support yourself without working that long.

Are you crazy?

With this group, the very first time I opened my mouth to talk about my dream someone pointed at a thoughtful-looking blonde guy at the next table. “Have you talked to Nate? Nate’s walking across America!” Other responses included advice on how to stay safe, suggestions for how to make a living while traveling that long, and being told I’m awesome.

You can see why I like this crowd.

But what struck me most is that the advice I got was not just rah-rah cheerleading. It was practical advice based on experience running location-independent businesses and traveling off the tourist trail.

The name “World Domination Summit” is something of a tongue-in-cheek title. No one there actually intends to rule the world. But after spending a weekend with these 500 people I can’t escape the idea that they—we, all of us—really are poised to have a lasting and profound influence on the world.

Photo credit: Armosa Studios

Weapon of Choice

When I departed for WDS, I was very conscious that I was not going there for the speakers. I was going for the other attendees.

I was mindful of some advice that Colin Wright gave me about building my blog: “You should be increasing your network like a crazy person.” (Colin’s book Networking Awesomely is the only reason I have any idea how to do that.) Any regular conference-goer knows that the main allure is networking, and usually that means a lot of awkward business lunches and palming your card out to everyone you meet. But I’ve learned that inviting people to parties, buying them drinks, and getting to know them as people rather than business contacts—you know, actually making friends—is more fun, more genuine, and way more effective.

And that is why WDS was a test for me. It was one of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever had to meet people who can play a role in launching my dream. And my success or failure depended 100% upon my social skills. My newbie, fledgling social skills.

A few of the amazing people I now count as dear friends:

  • James Watt, @adventuringraw. I knew James from Twitter, but had no idea that his head is a supercomputer of all things marketing. His next business project will put that knowledge to use for small business owners in an incredible new way. But even more than business talk, we really connected discussing martial arts, health, and building community. I’m amazed how much James and I have in common, and how at home I feel with him after just a few conversations.
  • Tessa Zeng, @teezeng. Tessa is equal parts artist and philosopher, and the two parts dance together with uncompromising grace. One conversation with her caused me to scrap and rewrite Walk Like a God. Tessa has a unique ability to step back and see the vital role that art can play in changing minds, which is the topic of her ebook Change Creation. I’ve never seen anyone so deftly isolate what effect a work has (or doesn’t) and how to amplify it.
  • Matt Langdon, @theherocc. When people ask Matt what he does for a living, he gets to say this: “I teach kids how to be heroes.” And he really does. Matt’s in-school educational program is built around the simple premise that the opposite of a hero is not a villain, it’s a bystander. With this core idea children are shown how they can make dramatic change in their schools and communities simply by speaking up instead of staying silent. My favorite thing I learned from Matt is that kids do, in fact, know the difference between a celebrity and a hero.

Deployment

Social skills are the tool with the lowest failure rate. Have you ever thought about where your social skills come from, and how they got the way they are? I spent years working on mine, and many of my friends don’t believe I used to be an introvert. But my skills are still a work in progress, something I hone a little more every day.

Please leave a comment and let me know what lets you be more comfortable socially. Is there a particular experience that gave you your social skills? Or were you just born that way? I look forward to hearing what the Rogue Priest community has to say!

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