“Don’t talk to strangers online!” Our parents always told us this, but now look at us. Even typing this right now, I have headphones on, I’m in a Starbucks and isolating myself from the rest of the community and surrounded by strangers, in hopes of reaching out to a few new strangers. It seems ironic in itself.

When do we consider people known? Is knowing them by name enough? I can definitely list times when I’ve known somebody but had no idea what their names were. I feel shameful about this, as if it was disrespectful. But there are also times I would find that although names were necessary, they weren’t always remembered. I am certified in CPR/AED, and obviously one of the first things you say to someone in distress is “Hi, my name is ___, and I know first aid, do you need assistance?” People in distress will most likely not remember your name, but according to the certification, introducing yourself and clarifying your name is enough to ‘know’ someone, or at least, enough to at least accept first aid from them if you need.

I definitely have had times where I’ve known someone online more than in person. “Never talk to strangers online” my parents always told me. They were right, but I didn’t always listen. There would be the rare occasion a mutual friend or just a friendly face from school would reach out on my social media. When you meet someone and get to know them over social media, you create an imaginary voice and attitude about them. Depending how long it is until you actually see them in person, you can find that meeting them in real life is a bit shocking. It’s a lot like when you read a book and they make a movie out of all the books; you had created your own version of this universe and sometimes it can be a bit shocking to see the director’s version.

When you meet someone in person, you can forget their names so easily! Especially in university, when you are meeting hundreds of people every year. I think there is a little something lost if you meet someone online first. You miss the little things that can make up someone’s true identity, like the way they talk, or their body language. Online identities are always representing our best selves. I feel that there is beauty in the best and the worst things about people. The worst, meaning more of the things that person may think are bad qualities but no one else would probably even notice.

If you want to truly know somebody, it takes effort and work. We are all constantly changing and growing, it would make sense if you wanted to know someone, you’d be constantly learning and growing with them. A plant doesn’t just grow on it’s own; you need to fertilize it, water it, care for it, make sure it’s sitting on that windowsill in the living room with just enough indirect light so that it doesn’t wither, but can still bloom. Just because you had a few conversations with someone over Facebook messenger, or Instagram, or any social media platform, do you truly know them? Do you know what they like to wear? Can you notice all vital micro-expressions they have as they talk to you, or as they talk about something they do or don’t like? These little pieces of communication are so critical to learning about someone and ‘knowing’ them that it seems that just an online relationship is lacking in what it means to be a sociable human being.

I’m not saying technology is the worst. I certainly rely on it for getting work done and reaching out to people and I’m grateful every day for that. I highly recommend meeting new people. I feel there’s always a curious side to us that yearns to learn about other people, to share about ourselves, and to interact. It’s how we were meant to live, to be social. If you have problems meeting new people, or you’re shy, here’s a couple things you can do to maybe get past it (or not, this is completely biased to what has helped me):

– Like sports? Join a sports team, your favourite one. Join with a friend or not; either way you are meeting new people either way, in a group where everyone is there for the same reason.

– You know what else promotes meeting new people and belonging? Festivals! Music! There are tons of events that bring people who love that genre together. Talk to someone about your love for that kind of music, because either way, you’re all there for that same reason. It’s magical.

– I get it. You can’t kick or throw a ball, and pigs will fly before you ever went to an event. Some people prefer a more relaxed environment. Go to an art show, or take a walk downtown. Don’t wear headphones and keep your phone away. Enjoy the moment. I’m always surprised by the amount of people who are outgoing enough to start conversations with me when I make myself available like this.

– If you don’t hate everyone at your workplace, invite that person or people over for a get together.

There are tons of other ways strangers can become great friends. Obviously be safe about it. There are some really crazy people out there. But sometimes you just get that social bug and you need to get away and just do something. Go do it!

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