Would you ever start a conversation with someone sitting next to you on the train? Or have tea with someone you've never met before? That is exactly what 24-year-old Ankit Shah, the creator of the friend-dating website Tea With Strangers, wants: to get people out of their comfort zones and expand their social circles by engaging in real, face-to-face conversation.
Tea With Strangers holds hosted “tea time” events in small groups in several cities to connect people. The site prompts you to sign up for organized meet-ups -- the catch is that you won’t be able to see who else is attending the events. The only thing you'll know is who’s hosting it. The important aspect of these events, as far as Shah is concerned? The human element.
“I think what Tea With Strangers does that other apps don’t do, or other companies or organizations might not do as much, is we focus explicitly on the importance of that connection," Shah told MTV News.
Shah first came up with this idea his senior year of college, a time when he felt people were much more open minded compared to their first few years in school, finding cliques and safe social groups. Six weeks before graduation, he decided to create a simple site where he invited people he didn’t know yet to meet and have tea and a conversation.
“I thought maybe five or 10 people would sign, and then very quickly a few hundred people signed up," Shah said. "I had about six weeks to meet them all." He learned a few things about what made for a good conversation and how to find a common ground between people with all types of backgrounds, which later turned into what is now Tea With Strangers.
Today, Shah said, we live in an iPhone world where, when we meet or even just hear about people, our instinct is to look them up on Facebook or Instagram. If they seem boring or completely different from you based on their profile, the sad reality is that we probably won’t even care to get to know them. “A lot of them are very focused on what makes this person a personality, and everyone has a personality on the Internet," Shah said. "It’s very rare to actually be a real person on the Internet, and that’s not anybody’s fault."
Basically, we're frightened. We tend to get really awkward when we meet someone new for the first time, and a lot of it has to do with that fear of getting rejected. Shah believes that everyone out there is in fact seeking connection, even those who say they prefer to be alone don’t ever actually mean that.
"A lot of people think that having a good conversation means jumping right in to grea, great questions," he explained. "Well, as a matter of fact, having a good conversation starts with realizing that the people you’re talking to are people."
So what's the goal for these tea times? For Shah, it's always comes back to that connection: "On a personal level I hope that everybody comes out of a teatime feeling like the people around them are not very different from them."
Find out more about Tea With Strangers at its website.