Curiosity Triggers | #179
April 23rd, 2022: Welcome to the 150+ new subscribers this week. Boundless just passed 6,000 subscribers here which is 🤯. I hope to continue to earn your trust with interesting and worthwhile words each week.
A good friend, Khe Hy, is kicking off the 10th cohort of his course “Supercharge Your Productivity.” I’ve learned a lot from Khe as he’s been on a similar path a few years ahead of me. We talked about that in a conversation here. While the title of his course frames it as a “productivity” thing - what I’ve heard from several people is that it’s much deeper. He typically attracts a group of reflective and curious people that want to find work worth doing and then build a life around it in a deliberate way.
#1 Curiosity Triggers & Rethinking Our Social Lives
More people should share things and attempt to make friends online. It’s one of the quickest ways to improve your life in a world where offline-first networks, clubs, and communities are increasingly harder to tap into.
One way people can do this is by strategically planting “curiosity triggers” in digital spaces. A curiosity trigger is something that serves as an invitation to other people with similar interests, curiosities or intentions to join you or follow along.
Here is a good example from my friend Pranab:
This tweet is a genuine sharing of his excitement but it’s also an invitation to ask questions and join him in his curiosity. The book he’s mentioning is by a spiritual teacher, Rob Burbea, and the only reason I know about him is because of Pranab. I haven’t gone deep into the rabbit hole but I know who I’ll ask if I want to go deeper.
The biggest benefit of doing things like this is hard to understand until you are doing them. Watching Pranab’s sharing has made it clear to me though that this is a high-impact thing he’s doing for his life. Through his excited sharing, he’s found a small number of people who are genuinely excited about these ideas. They all seem to like each other too and likely have become better friends. It’s cool to watch.
A curiosity trigger is contrasted with what the military analyst John Robb has called an “empathy trigger.” These are powerful sets of ideas or information that are designed to hack someone’s attention and are focused on generating a specific response.
Media organizations, businesses, and politicians strategically use these to get us to join a side. If you’ve ever been absolutely angry and outraged after reading an article, you probably were on the other side of a highly effective empathy trigger. When Fox News is showing an out of context video of what is supposedly illegal migrants crossing the border, they are trying to hijack the fear responses of 65+ year old men, trying to get them to join a side.
We saw the most extreme examples of this at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war when dozens of fake images made their rounds. They were horrific images, often from very different time periods and contexts that were meant to incite a specific reaction. In the past five years, people have become more aware that this kind of stuff goes on and it’s led to a general skepticism of the web, social media, and digital spaces in general.
Don’t Disconnect, Contribute
I think the answer to some of the bad parts of the internet is not to disconnect, but to engage strategically. Venkatesh Rao wrote a great thread a few years back arguing against what he was calling “Waldenponding.”
We are all now part of a powerful global social computer in the cloud that is possibly the only mechanism we have available to tackle the big problems of the world that industrial age mechanisms are failing to cope with. We might as well get good at it. Do your part. Stay as plugged in as you can.
If you’re going to be “plugged in” (unavoidable for most people) you might as well figure out how to avoid being a 100% consumer. By putting a small amount of effort into your digital presence, you can start finding the people you want to meet, connect with the people that might make your life better, and help filter the flood of information that flows toward you.
Here are some examples of ways I’ve done that:
Use the digital real estate to send certain messages:
Host events about topics you want to talk about and share them with people or communities you are a part of. Here’s a dinner I hosted in 2018:
Ask for what you want (note: this tweet alone led to my initial social circle and helped me find some local groups where I met many more people. Also people in Austin are incredibly friendly)
Make invitations: A literal curiosity trigger - an open invitation to have a curiosity conversation with me on any Wednesday of your choice.
A lot of people wonder if I get random people showing up for these chats. Yes, once. He wanted to see what it was about and hung up after five minutes. The remaining 300+ people? Almost categorically interesting, smart, curious people that I wanted to get to know better.
The State of Friendship
I sense that I’m an early adopter of this new digital-first reality that is already a norm for Gen Z and will continue to re-shape our social relationships.
There are negatives to all of this and those have been written about. What I’ve experienced has been very positive. Through following my curiosity and sharing things I’m excited about I’ve been able to make some amazing friends both online and even turn them into IRL friends too.
I was chatting with a friend in Austin a couple of months ago and he asked me: When did you start making most of your friends online?
For me, it was 2018 when I moved abroad - and it didn’t really occur to me until moving back to the US last October that this had become true for a lot more people.
This has led to a weird mix of different kinds of relationships:
Digital Friends: People I’m passively following or actively share stuff with each other
Digital Friends I’ve Met Once Or Twice: People I’ve talked to online a bunch or who follow my stuff and reach out to connect when I’m in a certain location. I’ve found that meeting people often improves the digital interactions afterward
Close Virtual Friends: These are people I talk with almost weekly or biweekly either in group messages, direct messages, or by phone. Many of these are people are on similar life paths and although we haven’t met in real life but it would be quite natural to hang out if we lived in the same area.
Online-to-IRL friends: These are people I met online first, hung out with in person, and then kept hanging out with. Probably 5-10 people I’ve really hit it off with and plan to stay connected with over the long-term both virtually and in person.
IRL Family & Close Friends: People I’ve known for decades. Some of which I keep in touch with digitally, some I never do and only talk to when I’m in specific locations.
I’d say almost everyone I end up connecting with is the result of making those “digital friends” first and as I get to know them, some turn into high-quality IRL friends.
One of those people I met in Austin was Max, who sent me a message after I said I was moving to Austin. He’s an amazing guy and it turns out he had his own story of turning internet friends into life upgrades. Here’s what he said (“maximally excited” is quite a good curiosity trigger too…):
In 2018 part of why I left the US is that I was struggling to make friends who understood my weird new path. I went to a freelancer meetup once and quickly realized that “freelancer” was not a solid curiosity trigger for the people I was looking for.
Luckily now with the internet, we don’t have to default to making friends based on similar titles or life stages. Now we can make vibe-first and interest-first friends online and then figure out how to make things happen IRL.
Sharing Is Generosity
If there’s one thing I tell people who are scared of sharing things online it’s that it can be one of the most generous things you can do. This is because other people might be waiting to find people like you or discover the ideas you want to share.
To start you can just do this passively. You can do simple things like adding things to your name (hmm long games sound cool, I want to learn more).
You can ask questions:
Or share your amazing drawings (I’m biased here 😁)
A curiosity trigger is simply an invitation to join an infinite game - one centered around your own curiosity and interests. This is in contrast to a lot of what people get sucked into on the internet - invitations to pick a side, or take an action based on scarcity or fear.
Take a look at the screen time app on your iPhone and see how much time you spend consuming information. Now take 5% of that time and start putting your own curiosity triggers out there. If you do this, I can almost guarantee interesting things will happen. And if they do, let me know. I love hearing about this.
See you out there.
Also, if you’re looking to meet certain kinds of people, let me know I’ll post something in my newsletter next week. I’m always thinking about better ways to connect you all to each other. Consider this space yours and I’m always happy to amplify or share the things you are working on.
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