Saturday, January 21, 2017

When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You, by Kio Stark

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Kio Stark's short book on talking to strangers mixes sociology with practical advice on being out in public.  

Scientific research tells us that we feel good after having spoken to a stranger. A little positive human contact gives us a high. The interaction doesn't need to be significant. It can be just a simple "hello", or maybe a more involved exchange. There are lots of quirky, spontaneous, fleeting and yet quite revealing short interactions that author and teacher Kio Stark describes in this short TED book. Whether it be sitting at the bus stop or waiting in line at the bank, there are opportunities galore to delve beneath the orderly social fabric we all try to maintain. Beneath this smooth veneer we can discover a new world of insights; we can also learn to become more empathetic. 

While the subject matter of When Strangers Meet may seem a little glib or gimmicky, the book actually  provides a lot of analysis concerning how our public spaces function. Kio Stark explores the politics and psychodynamics of public space: how we interact with people of different genders and races, the line we draw between the personal and private when dealing with strangers, the public performance involved in our interactions and a host of other intricate behaviours.

Stark relies a lot on the work of Erving Goffman, the Canadian-American sociologist who studied how we present ourselves and unconsciously perform in public. In many ways, When Strangers Meet is a variation on his work. It also works as a bit of an etiquette guide to being out in public.

This is a book that will make you re-think the world around you and how you interact with it.

When Strangers Meet: How People You Don't Know Can Transform You, by Kio Stark. Published by Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 9781471156090 RRP: $19.99

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