Notice: Don’t be stranger to gossip when you’re on the go
The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World Joe Keohane Random House (€ 19.80)
When I first picked up The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Going Online in a Suspicious World I thought I had the essence of it from the first chapter – that there is an unknown value in talking with strangers and we ignore it at our peril – and I wondered if it was worth reading on for more. .
But there is a hint of Bill Bryson about author Joe Keohane: he carries his knowledge lightly, and his exuberant curiosity leads him to inform his readers of a vast array of coincidences, intriguing facts – so once you start reading you may find that you don’t want to stop.
From the impact of the invention of the jet lance 400,000 years ago to how man is the only self-domesticated animal, there were many concepts in this book that literally never were before me. come to mind before.
Keohane explains how about 200,000 years ago we began to civilize: we lost our thick eyebrows, our faces became thinner, our serotonin increased, we became less aggressive, and we learned to speak.
The evolution of the language created bonding and communication within our tribes, and although we constantly favored our own groups, we had to make room for outsiders to enter the enclave as they could benefit the community. community.
Perhaps this is why we humans have developed the ritual of greeting as a quick system to determine if an alien is a “dead non-human monster” (as the Korowai people of Papua, Indonesia, some foreigners describe) or a potential friend.
“By successfully performing a ritual of greeting… strangers can demonstrate self-control and intelligence, and demonstrate that they are not a threat, and could in fact be a boon,” writes Keohane.
The curious sense of relief and pleasure that we feel when an interaction with a stranger goes well is analyzed and put into historical context.
Research shows that most of us view strangers as less intelligent and less human, so when we have a positive encounter with a stranger, we automatically feel a mixture of relief and a restored belief in our humanity.
Keohane skillfully draws parallels between tribal indigenous peoples and modern challenges.
Exploring how the Semai people of central Malaysia were attacked so often that “fear permeates every aspect of their life,” Keohane notes similarities in how the 1980s rhyme “foreign danger” taught quite a few. generation of American children to fear strangers – despite the argument. that the real danger comes from the people they know.
In 2018, the United States National Center for Missing and Exploited Children officially removed the term “alien danger” when it realized that this catchy rhyme had caused more harm than good and negatively affected the lives of American children. .
Religion is under deep analysis, and Keohane points out that once societies reached about a million people, religion arose – perhaps, he mused, because larger societies needed some “kind of heavenly surveillance system” to keep tabs on everyone.
According to Keohane, there are now too many historical conflicts between religions; religion has had its day and “we need a new social renaissance. We have to talk to strangers.
The book is divided into three parts: what happens when we talk to strangers, why don’t we talk to strangers, and how to talk to strangers.
Keohane doesn’t just focus on prehistoric times and indigenous peoples to gather information on aliens, he explores a range of random initiatives taking place today, such as Trigger Conversations, a “human connection organization” at London which is centered on social events that facilitate a meaningful conversation between strangers.
He takes a 42-hour train across the United States in an effort to better understand why conversation goes more smoothly when we’re in transit.
He even stands on a street corner in Los Angeles, holding a cardboard sign with “Free Listening” scrawled on it.
If there is one flaw in this book, it is this: These experiences seem fanciful and carry less weight than the breadth of knowledge Keohane demonstrates from his understanding of the behavior of our ancestors.
Some of the initiatives described in this book seem quite specific. I doubt I am the only one who thinks joining a stranger sitting at a table in a park with a sign saying ‘Where are you going?’ is an unattractive way to spend an afternoon.
Keohane lives in New York, the ‘capital of foreigners’, and we Irish people have always been regarded as a friendly nation and so we may be fortunate in not needing to consider such measures.
While we don’t need instructions on how to talk to strangers, after reading this book it occurs to me that we must cherish our innate Irish cuteness.
We live in a world where we use our phones as a shield against strangers. Most of us are overloaded and often we don’t feel ready to talk.
Tricking us to be xenophiles rather than xenophobes, Keohane proves again and again throughout this book that talking with strangers makes us feel better, that our nervousness towards strangers is linked to an irrational fear that does not serve humanity. and that we are losing more than we realize. we do this when we choose the self-checkout.