I am dedicating this post to Sherry Turkle – in part because she put into concise words what has been bugging me about romance for a while and more importantly, because she made me turn the examination glass on myself and reconsider what I do and don’t do in the name of love.
Falling in love is an action; it requires movement, positioning and even, at the most poetic moments, running through rains or deserts to demonstrate commitment and faith (ok maybe running to make your last-minute flight because you have that realization you should be somewhere else). True love is rarely convenient, even less so emotionally dictatable. It doesn’t really happen if you’re sitting down in front of a computer…especially not on an intimate level and it most definitely doesn’t “play” by the same rules as coding, programming or engineering. And yet, here we are, in 2013 with a healthy business and various models for converting this ancient mystical process into something like a “love algorythm”.
To allow for those phermones to co-exist in cyber space is in itself risky; the relationship you have with a machine is still one that largely allows you to predict and control the outcome. Anyone who’s ever had a real relationship with a living, breathing, sentient human being knows that it is the last thing you can say about the ebb and flow. Even for a Pisces or one of the other “water” sign people… there is a great and unimaginable “UNKNOWN” (which Sherry describes at the thing which has led to texting taking over phoning and conversations in real time). We are completely afraid of what to say to one another… which, considering how little time we spend together face to face on a daily basis, is totally understandable.
Think about the last time you spoke to a perfect stranger. That guy ordering a latte before you, the girl at the grocery store asking you to reach the last marshmallow bag in the back, or what you plan on doing with those eight bags of artichokes. Most people freeze ,and look quizzically at the person, wondering if they are about to get robbed or being punked. If you wonder how I know this, because I AM that girl who will ask you about your artichokes and say “I like your bow tie” when you’re waiting for your triple americano at Intellgencia. Spontaneous conversation seems to hit more jarring and scary than the prospect of a sudden proctology examination to some of the people in this world. They mumble, they look side to side to see if you’re with some reality camera crew. (and yes I DO largely blame the Punk’d people for THAT one).. but the special circumstances on which any one used to be able to rely on for unlimited possibilities when it comes to meeting strangers.. GONE. No more train stations, no more last seat left at the airport next to the cute person who looks like your grade 2 crush, and very very little time walking through places where peoples eyes are UP and outwardly looking to see what’s around them. I feel so much like a time traveller when I say this but perhaps it’s because I was born in eastern europe: the magic of trains and planes and line ups that I remember was purely based on the “you never know who you might meet” there. Millions of travellers and phone-signal-less humans would converge in these special places and strike up conversations, philanthropic, intellectual and sometimes even leading to a future romance. My 14 year old train trip from Berlin to Szczecin included an 80 year old math professor and a band of 20 slavic gypsies who got kicked off the train twice; things said on that trip to thte professor AND them defined me. There was a sense of danger, a sense of learning and a sense of comeraderie. I went in on one level, emerged from the journey having touched the lives of people who would not ever speculate about my character but could actually attest to what they had witnessed there. Where is that in 2013? Does it exist? Can we every reclaim that serendipity?
I joke about being a ludite. The reality is I’m just in love with people, their aura, their movements, the way they get to smell my perfume when they hug me (and I theirs). I think first sentences are incredibly powerful … and don’t practice and test mine on FB but like them to flow unexpectedly out of me when I trust any given situation to reveal itself. This is where a LOT of my fearlessness comes from as an actress.. and as a human being. I have started randomly talking to enough strangers (and they to me) from so many walks of life that I can collectively say not one person has passed through my existence without illuminating it somehow, or teaching me something. And those lessons are not theoretical when they are empirically inimitable by what’s going on online. I seek them out and when I talked about what I would want to do IN tech, my goal has been to imitate a gateway to allow people to discover or reclaim that trust that we should all have in ourselves “in the moment. ” Knowing that even if you can’t edit before speaking, even IF you say the wrong thing, that there is nothing in the world better than saying the right thing face to face. Connecting on a level with or without words that resonates with all of your senses. If you have ever fallen in love at first sight or kissed someone you just met because you feel a certain wonderous magnetism, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I helped created an app designed to forge a route to get you there.
If there are now thousands of technical ways to calculate a match for us by the things we say about ourselves, there is still nothing that can prepare you for the raw experience of being thrown into a live conversation with someone. I think the “chemistry” of those first words, sights and impressions are more powerful than sharing an elementary school teacher or favorite flavor of ice cream. Every guy I have ever been drawn to has captured my imagination with their mannerisms and choice of words, the way they make eye contact. Any and all attemps of my friends to set me up on blind dates are trumped if that first minute to two minutes of “raw” are not compelling or electrifying. I would agree that this can change over time if the person is particularly good with a “game face” but generally speaking, the more I meet people, the better I get at telling the difference.
The way this has translated into my tech venture is simple. I don’t care where someone is from or their genetic history, I don’t want to know what they would do on a desert island if only their dog was there and I’m not going to enjoy any assumptions about them based on their choice of dessert in Johanessburg… All I want is the essence of the person I’m meeting. Capturing this in a way that isn’t an oxymoron in tech means that I have to evaluate what tech things in my life I feel are contributing to knowing others and which are taking me away from them. Some of the most amazing people I’ve met were in the early days of A Small World. Skype has allowed me to get to show my parents my new apartment, echoecho helped me find my friends in LA, gasbuddy has reduced my time driving around looking for diesel for my VW. There are definitely things at work in the world that I feel enable me to do more of the things I love… and the ones which are really REALLY dependent on how addictive a personality one has. Ie Facebook, Youtube, Snapchat, now Whisper. I think the best things are the CONDUIT applications.. the ones that you spend MINIMUM time in front of a computer/phone etc… and FASTEST time to deliver you sitting in front of another human being. This was not just a prototype but this is the M.O. with which I structure (and re-edited thanks to Turkle’s book) my life to be the most amazing and inspring days. There is no dress rehearsal.. so for all you 20-year olds spending your days in front of the monitor, be advised.. travelling to Africa when you’re “done working” at age 60 will NEVER be as cool,the chance to run naked through the rare warm rain outside will not come again and the person who could be your “true romance” could be walking outside your door right now as you’re taking on another level of Assasin’s creed in your unwashed t shirt of five days. All the things you do the tech work for ARE the living breathing things that you see people like Richard Branson constantly talking about: windsurfing, snorking. travelling to beaches and sure, kite surfing with a model taped to you.
This is what I want my legacy to be in tech. To help create a conduit to get all of us to re-balance the amount of time we spend HERE (the way you are reading this now) and the UNTOUCHABLY momentous signature footprint you make on the world and others when you go out in it and experience it first hand. The app I have ended up co founding is therefore JUST that… it’s a beacon, a call for you to remember what it’s like to meet REAL people, how it feels when you share two sentences that make you feel like you’ve known someone your whole life. (it’s called Flikdate btw.. you’re welcome to try it after you read this.. but maybe go for a walk first..). Walk up to someone in a grocery store and ask them what you should do with an artichoke.