“Like attracts like.”
We all know this saying. If you’re talking about groups of people, that’s certainly true. But why is that so?
For a moment, let’s imagine a bunch of strangers who find themselves in a new and completely foreign environment. Over time, these strangers will gravitate toward those others who seem most like them.
They’ll get to know each other and self-organize into small groups, within which most of their interactions will happen. Soon, the groups will drift apart, and each will develop its own cultural features, habits, and possibly even a form of expression or language.
We’ve all seen this happen. Think of your school’s cliques. Each group not only hung out together, but probably dressed similar, adopted a specific vocabulary, and shared a common sense of humour. Similar trends happen on larger societal levels as well.
“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are”
This natural tendency to connect with people who share your own defining characteristics — things like age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, personal beliefs, etc. — known as homophily. An influential piece of neuroscience research called “The Homophily Principle in Social Network Analysis ” describes these tendencies in detail.
But as you probably know, the distance between groups, be it cultural or physical, also breeds distrust for those of other groups. Eventually, that distrust can turn into outright hostility. In other words,
We are inherently programmed to distrust outsiders, and to trust those in our own group.
Modern technology has only increased this effect. Social networks are built to amplify our own beliefs and exclude ideas or content we don’t interact with. Thus, that isolates us within an insular “bubble.”
Most of us spend our whole lives within relatively closed networks of communication. Even if we don’t intend it, we isolate ourselves from one another, becoming more polarised but also more satisfied with the stability we find within our own circle.
“Ignorance is bliss”. Really..?
Breaking the paradigm means bucking the system and going beyond our in-group to meet someone different. Anytime we do this, we can become a link between clusters that would otherwise remain isolated.
These sorts of breakout events do happen. Sometimes it’s called “forming weak ties” or “networking”.
Weak ties are a type of superficial acquaintance between people who periodically communicate, exchange news and ideas, but cannot necessarily be called friends. They belong to different social circles, do different things, and focus on different issues. However, despite being “weak,” such connections generate important results.
“Better to try and fail than fail to try”.
From a large-scale study first published in 1973, we know that more than half of people find their jobs precisely thanks to such weak ties. It’s not close friends or strong connections that create these opportunities, but distant acquaintances. Many subsequent research projects have confirmed this effect.
Though some technology can isolate people, there are apps that built to help you bridge the divides.
This has led to the growth of “out-of-the-box meetups” — get-togethers designed for the purpose of meeting people outside your comfort group. Sometimes they’re conducted within large companies or set up by local communities, but modern technology also enables apps like Umity to work as the organiser.
Such meetups reinforce the idea that you “shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” — you can make meaningful connections over a single common interest. And it doesn’t matter if it’s just a preference to coffee over tea or a habit of taking short walks on Thursdays after work — you can always find someone who shares the same values and can potentially become a new friend or, at the very least, a fresh source of knowledge.
“Everyone is a teacher, and everything is a lesson”.