How a Year of Prototyping Became a Year of Trusting Part 3

Yigal & Nirupa. Somewhere near the Dead Sea overlooking Jordan. PC: Nirupa Umapathy

Yigal & Nirupa. Somewhere near the Dead Sea overlooking Jordan. PC: Nirupa Umapathy

It was October 2017. The village, Ein Bokek. Crossing a momentary highway, I said goodbye to friends. Beyond my eye’s corner lay the Dead Sea, splitting Israel and Jordan. He was waiting across the road. A black car by his side. Yigal his name.

Our friendship — 5 minutes old in analog and 2 weeks young on digital. We had met on CouchSurfing.

I crossed smiling and mildly relieved. Thinking, he looks my height from a distance. Manageable in the event things go off-sides.

The calculus of a single woman traveling alone.

I could not see the kindness of his eyes yet. Earnest like his digital profile- “A month-long camel ride in India. A fan of Sadguru.”

Mine should have read- “Nomad. Hybrid capitalist. Reciprocalist. Surfer of trust.”

Coffee meets Couch?

I was not couching with Yigal. Our dates did not work out. He was driving me to a village called Idan, where my couch-to-be-a-shack awaited, 20 minutes north on the south side of the Dead Sea.

By my calculations, Idan and back was a 50-minute round-trip. The whole evening might have “cost” Yigal 3–4 hours. Hundreds of dollars where I come from — the imputed tax on east coast office time.

Nothing was asked in return except for conversation.

It was ride-sharing meets CouchSurfing meets dating app for friends. Coffee meets Couch.


A Contract on Text. Via WhatsApp

In the middle of the Arava, I had no bearing. According to T-Mobile, I was in Jordan. Data was expensive. I resolved to only use it in the event of an abduction.

Yigal, I am joking :)

Reality could not have been further from what I had projected, feared and imagined. Imperfect scenario analysis. My brain is terrifically bad at patterning and predicting the unfamiliar. Is yours?

For two hours we drove through the stunning aridity of the Arava rising to a setting sun, stopping at scenery with conversation a punctuation mark.

Conversation an earnest exchange of personal histories. Everywhere we looked a pop-up intimacy prevailed. We had started at different points of origin. We had found home in many places. We did yoga and meditation. We loved the life nomadic. We talked furiously about the culture of humanity, of the mind, of being and becoming.

An Arava Sunset. PC: Nirupa Umapathy & Yigal

An Arava Sunset. PC: Nirupa Umapathy & Yigal

Trust Scoring

In my old business on the trading floor, due-diligence was the norm. My transactions of yore were backed by contracts, paper trails, trade tickets, indentures and trust deeds. In the radically open frontier of social networking apps, there is a trail of text, a not so well-defined profile, aka the digital resume and trust. Co-created in an instant in time.

A Zipcode of Trust. Via WhatsApp

A Zipcode of Trust. Via WhatsApp

Sparse had been my due-diligence. Yet I trusted. The tonality of text divined a certain sincerity of persona and common interest.

The Basis of Exchange

In the career of past, the premise to relationship building between a salesperson and her client was defined. The basis of exchange, that is.

The basis was the intent to transact and build a portfolio of deals together. The prevailing assumption being both parties could facilitate something mutually beneficial. The basis was to maximize value generation on both sides with protocol creating form, a structure for engagement.

In social networking apps, the basis of exchange may be well-defined but protocol of engagement varies. The culture and context of each app is very idiosyncratic. I had seen the good-bad-the-ugly of the swipe left and right of online dating. I had experimented with ride-sharing apps for friending with delightful results. Dating apps have the premise of meeting for a hook-up or a date or those seeking something beyond. Value-creation is not always mutual. The signal is not always clarified from the noise.

CouchSurfing had remained an unexplored frontier. My original reasoning had been- a couch was too close to home. If the couch did not work, where would I bolt? In CouchSurfing, the basis to “transact” was defined but also more open-ended. Even if the premise was to find a couch, a host, a friend and many variations of this, the contract could be fluid — the basis of exchange seemingly tenuous. Too much could go wrong, I argued. Besides, how could something so good be for free?

The Secret Saucing of Trust

In my past life trust was not granted. Trust was earned through impeccable execution, hard work, service and knowing your client in and out. Trust was a byproduct of reputation meticulously built. Reputation was social capital, trust its currency. The alchemy of business relationships was formalized by belts and suspenders of documentation. Good “salespersonship” in financial services relied on structure, crisscrossing and cumulating financial and social capital.

Adapting from the highly structured world of finance into the highly unstructured world of the sharing economy, I found my feet not through documentation but by suspending disbeliefs and active curation. I had to learn a new protocol and learn I did. A protocol two-way verified and co-created. With technology a facilitator.

What the radically open frontier of social networks and I had in common were philosophy and framework.The future is open, the future is learned, the future is shared.

I believe in the indescribable mystery of human relationships. I play in the radically open frontier of social-networking apps. Yet, the romantic in me long-exited online dating. Online dating apps felt too much like slot machines of the heart. I believe in reciprocity and creating an exchange at a point in time. I believe in the alchemy of what makes special relationships, extraordinary.

My social graph is a living, moving thing — reaching across the digital and the analog. Regardless of means and medium my fall back is the connective tissue of what it means to be indescribably human- to be curious, to look beyond the nose, and follow the story in the eye’s corner.

It was dark when Yigal pulled up in the dusty straw-covered, make-do parking lot of the mushav, where I would make my bed the next few days. I was nervous to say goodbye to Yigal. We had crossed the sound barrier of strangers. I did not know what lay ahead.

In the darkness, I could see Rotem, my CouchSurfing host, come forward. With a smile that could light a starless night, Rotem greeted me. He looked not more than in his mid-20s. Yigal and he chatted, a conversation that might as well have remained tongue.

Grateful for my enriched passage through the desert — fed fat with conversation I bid Yigal good-bye. I looked back with a pang and fondness for my new friend. We had traveled solid in the zip code of trust.

As Rotem and I walked in, a group of young, smiling faces greeted me. Dinner preparations were in the midst. I had arrived on the eve of Sukkot, just in time to break bread with more strangers and kinsfolk of an instant in time.

Rotem, Nirupa & Friends. Mushav Idan. October 2017. PC: Rotem T

Rotem, Nirupa & Friends. Mushav Idan. October 2017. PC: Rotem T

This is Part 3 of a series of stories on traveling alone, surfing the social network and the alchemy of human stories and relationships.

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