You're an Introvert, How Did You Make More Friends During a Pandemic?
How I Used the Internet to Find My Tribe
As a millennial, I was raised online. As a shy, sheltered, lonely kid, the internet provided me with the friendship, support, and the human connection I was lacking in real life. Through online chats like AOL instant messenger I was able to develop much needed social skills. Through social media like Myspace I found people with similar interests to my own, and started to get an idea of what healthy human interactions could look like.
As I matured into an adult, and the internet became more technocratic, capitalistic, cannibalistic, and polarizing, I put more and more space between it and myself. But then when the pandemic hit and we were told to shelter in place, I called upon my past (positive) experience of following my curiosity, taking a leap of faith, and finding and engaging with strangers online.
What happened over the next 18 months surprised even me. I started to make new friends, more friends than I had at the start of the pandemic. Quality friends that were passionate about the same things I was.
Lost, Then Found
It wasn't all sunshine and lollipops though. My initial experience navigating the pandemic was much like my experience figuring out how to get around Tokyo on my first solo trip there.
I remember very distinctly the feelings of dread, despair, and disorientation getting off that subway in Shibuya during rush hour. I hadn’t picked up my “pocket wifi” device yet, so I didn’t have cell service. I couldn’t tell up from down, east from west. I couldn’t slow down to figure out if I was going the right way because that would disrupt the uniquely Japanese ordered-and-efficient flow of traffic at the metro station. Even worse, all of the signs were written in Japanese.
I wished so badly that I had somebody to show me the way around, or some kind of guidebook — alas, I embraced my fate, and through trial-and-error, finally figured out where I needed to go.
Many of us felt similarly lost when the pandemic started. In addition to the incomprehensible loss of life,1-in-5 people have lost a close friend or family member to COVID (Source) we lost those shared spaces and connections that we relied on to ground us.A recent report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests 1-in-3 people (including 2-in-3 young adults) in America felt increases in “serious loneliness” during the pandemic. A similar study found that (even before the pandemic) nearly half of all Americans (49%) reported having fewer than three close friends Those shared spaces are sometimes referred to as third placesCoined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg — i.e. places where we spend time between home (first place) and work (second place). Sometimes called the “living room” of society, they are locationsE.g. Coffee shops, barbershops, art galleries where we convene to exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships. We were thrown into this new digital world and forced to learn how to navigate within it, alone.
The following day of my Tokyo trip, I began to find my bearings. I felt like I could go to the metro station and not be so worried I was taking the subway in the wrong direction. I had a slightly better idea of what to listen for when it was time to get off at my stop.
But I was now faced with a new problem, there were an overwhelming number of things to do and places to see. How could I find the places that I’d personally be interested in seeing? Places that attract people who are curious about the same things as I was? Where would I find the third places relevant to me in Tokyo?
When you’re exploring any new place, physical or digital, you're often tasked with trying to separate the signal from the noise and find places on your frequency. In these cases it’s helpful to have a framework for unearthing the places you want to visit, or to find a reputable source that can act as a tour guide (and even provide you with a map or guide book).
A Framework for Finding Third Places
The internet is the perfect platform for discovering digital third places, places where you can develop friendships with people who have similar interests and curiosities as you. And unlike most of history, this new digital medium ensures you won’t be constrained geographically in your search. In order to find your people, you’ll have to learn: what to look for, who to ask, how to filter out the noise, and how to broadcast your interests to attract others.
Now you might be wondering:
- How did you find your tribe?
- How did you figure out what you’re interested in?
- And how did you know where to look once you did?
Using the abundance of free time afforded to me by the pandemic, I started asking myself:
- What makes me come alive when I learn or read about it?
- What fascinates me?
- What could I talk about for hours with a close friend?
For me it was:
- Exploring how to use technology to improve my life — how I can use digital tools as a second brainCoined by Tiago Forte to offload things from my first brain, and be able to focus my energy on what’s important to me and reach my potential
- Externalizing my thoughts in writing – as a way of learning how to think better, as a medium of creative expression, as a way of creating a digital archive of my thoughts and actions
Once I figured out these areas of interest, I followed the cookie crumbs to see where they led. Just like the “places of interest" I would visit in the analog world, my journey took me to many locations in this new digital city. And at each destination I met new friends. I ventured to:
- The Lab of Tools for ThoughtTechnology used to to augment human thought (think: bicycles for the mind) (featuring engineers and hackers using Roam Research, Logseq, Obsidian)
- The Creators Gym (helmed by David Perell and Will Mannon of Write of Passage)
- Through which I met my morning (writing) workout crew, Writual
- The Interintellect Cafe (which is reviving the French Salon format for the 21st century)
What Route Will You Take?
I wanted to make the most of my time in Tokyo, so I made sure to do my research beforehand and come armed with a trove of places I was interested in seeing.
The internet was an indispensable tool as I curated this list. In addition to consulting friends who had been there before, I also found digital guidebooks created by other fellow travelers on platforms like Timeout, Atlas Obscura, Foursquare, and Yelp. I created a map of Tokyo that was uniquely mine. Through that I found such treasures as Lion CafeA century-old tranquil cafe serving coffee and tea with two-stories-tall speakers playing orchestral classical recordings., Anata no WarehouseA dystopian-themed arcade for adults, the Shin-Yokohama Ramen MuseumA food-court/museum themed as 1958 Tokyo (the year instant noodles were invented), and Genki SushiCompletely automated, conveyor belt sushi.
I took a similar trial-and-error route for finding my tribe online, and I welcome you to use the above framework to blaze your own trail, to find the points of interest on your personal map of the internet. But if you end up having trouble wading through the waters of information abundance This concept is borrowed from David Perell’s piece on The Paradox of Abundance I recommend finding a tour guide, a curator, to help you navigate the current.
"What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured." - Kurt Vonnegut
Here are some exemplary tour guides I invite you to sign up for any of their newsletters, I subscribe to all of the ones on this list:
- For writing and sharing online: David Perell
- For metacognition: Anne-Laure Le Cunff / Ness Labs
- For reading, curation, and general curiosity: The Marginalian
- For mastering the best of what others have already figured out: Shane Parrish
- For optimization of self and health: Tim Ferriss
- For learning sustainable and enjoyable approaches to success: Matt D’Avella, Khe Hy
- For learning about ADHD, neurodivergence, creativity: Jessica McCabe, Jesse Anderson
A Love Letter to the Internet
My earlier forays using the internet to find my way both as a young adult, and solo traveler in Tokyo, prepared me in an unexpected way to be able to survive—even thrive—during one of the most scary, uncertain, and socially isolating times in our lives. These adventures taught me what an invaluable tool the internet and its social platforms can be in any expedition. That when utilized correctly, you can get inside the minds of and be part of conversations with experts and aficionados in the fields you're interested in. It truly can be a spectacular thing.
If I had one final piece of advice for you to take with you in your upcoming travels, it would be: embrace the excitement of exploring new places and experiencing new things. Treat it all as an experiment, and try not to take it too seriously. Follow your curiosity compass and see where it leads.