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Illustration for article titled Staring at a Stranger for 60 Seconds Helped Me Feel Better About Quarantine Life
Image: Human Online

Physical distancing is necessary to keep our communities safe and healthy, yeah, but it sure is making us all a lot lonelier. Yes, we’re flattening the curve—and that’s crucially important—but it’s hard to cut ourselves off from our friends and family for weeks at a time. Zoom calls are simply no replacement for authentic human connection.

That’s where Human Online’s “Human Minute” comes in.

This simple video “chat” platform connects two strangers remotely and asks them to simply make eye contact with each other for a full minute—the idea being that you will facilitate an authentic connection through silence.

Individual artists and entire spiritual traditions have used similar techniques to facilitate emotional bonds between people, and there’s a whole lot of science backing up how the basic act of looking someone in the eye can be a profound experience. Maybe it can also help us find a moment of genuine connection in these troubled times.

How to use Human Minute

Illustration for article titled Staring at a Stranger for 60 Seconds Helped Me Feel Better About Quarantine Life
Screenshot: Brendan Hesse
  1. Go to Human.Online and click “Sign In.” Click “Create Account” if you don’t have one and complete the verification instructions.
  2. Once you’re signed in, scroll down to the video box and click “Connect.”
  3. Agree to the user guidelines—no talking, no gestures or written communication, and, y’know, don’t flash the other user.
  4. You’ll then have to wait while the site pairs you with someone. You’ll be notified on-screen once the other user is ready to connect; otherwise you can try joining a larger, multi-user “gatherings” if one is available.
  5. Next, click “Allow” to let Human Online access your device’s camera. An on-screen guide will help you line-up your camera’s view for the best results.
  6. Click “Start” to connect to the other person.
  7. Here’s the hard part: Make eye contact with your match for 60 seconds. A timer bar will display for the first 10 seconds, then fade away and re-appear for the last 10 seconds so you can prepare for the end of the “chat.”
  8. You can also click “End connection” to end the video early.
  9. After the call, you can send a “Thank you” to the other participant, or, if needed, report any abusive behavior. Click “Move on from this experience” when you’re ready to close the window.

What it feels like to stare at a stranger for 60 seconds

It’s one thing to know explain how to use Human Minute, but you’re probably wondering what it actually feels like, so I’ll share my experience.

I’ve seen Human Minute users confess to feeling very anxious in the moments leading up to the video, and I expected I would feel much the same—but I found I was more curious than anything. Part of that is down to my personality: I’m not necessarily a shy person. I was a “theater kid” well into college, loved taking public speaking courses and still enjoy being around and in front of others most of the time. That’s not to mention the fact that I’ve been publicly sharing and publishing content online since I was a teenager. I have an aversion to certain social settings, sure, but in general, I’m okay with strangers.

Still, I won’t deny I had reservations. The experience of Human Minute is utterly personal, and while 60 seconds seems so ephemeral most of the time, I did wonder how it would feel to stare at a stranger for that long.

As it turns out, it’s not that bad.

I loaded up the website, made an account and clicked “connect.” After a very quick tutorial and an overview of the guidelines, I received a notification that another user was waiting for me. I clicked “I’m ready,” the video popped out to fullscreen and I was suddenly looking at an elderly gentleman on my screen. A progress bar at the top started slowly ticking down, then vanished.

I noticed that he and I both were sitting in very similar-looking rooms, flanked by shelves. I thought to myself, “This is kinda like looking at myself a few decades from now,” and I smiled—somewhat due to awkwardness. Then he smiled. Then we both smiled more, and I kinda just stopped thinking after that.

Illustration for article titled Staring at a Stranger for 60 Seconds Helped Me Feel Better About Quarantine Life
Screenshot: Brendan Hesse

Next thing I knew, the progress bar faded back into view, signaling we were nearing the end of our shared moment. I expected the 60 seconds to feel like an awkward eternity, but actually passed quite quickly.

He silently nodded at the last moment, and the connection ended automatically. The page asked me to register how I felt, and I clicked to thank the other person just as I received a notification he had done the same.

I took a moment to reflect on exactly how I felt, and I can say truly I had a positive reaction. The last several weeks have been difficult for me, as I’m sure they’ve been for others. I’ve tried to use remote group activities to keep in touch with my friends, and I’ve become pretty good at carrying on conversations with neighbors from across the street, but these situations were surface-level interactions at best. And while I can’t say staring at a stranger for 60 seconds defeated my quarantine blues—nor was it the life-changing transcendental experience Human Online’s branding presents it to be—it definitely had a lasting impact on the quality of my day so far.

Obviously the potential for abusing a platform like this is high, and I don’t blame folks for staying away because they don’t want to be flashed by a stranger or subjected to other disturbing imagery. Equally, Human Online’s branding veers obnoxiously close to “New Age” sloganeering; some people might be turned off by that, and, fair. But when it comes to the experience itself, I found it oddly moving. I’d suggest giving it a try if you’re curious.

[Wired]

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