Interacting with people is very hard for some, for others it comes naturally, and for a third group, usually called extroverts, it is the very way in which they recharge batteries.
Oddly, after spending years on the far end of the curve's tail of how much I try to interact with people, I have noticed a pattern, in almost any group, that seems very unfruitful, and would do well to go extinct. I could try and devise a general version of it, but I'll only mention people who are curiosity driven or very goal oriented.Obviously, I'm deploying an stereotypical approximation, not a double blind large N study.
For those two groups, when two new people get to know each other, frequently the following happens:
1) Tell each other coarse grained info about their background and interests
2) Interact for some amount of time on a shared interest (which could be the interest both share in the fact that currently they disagree about some topic, such as transhumanism)
3) If one finds the other person interesting, try together to refine some specific ideas, or advocate for most strongly held beliefs.This goes on for a bit.
4) Activate or fail to activate the trigger of "friendship" or "good person to interact with" - And though this is beautiful, here the danger begins
If both failed to activate the trigger, the interaction resumes, or people let go of important topics and enter other mental modes. Yet, in most of those cases, they have only interacted about coarse grained descriptions of their interests, and a few things both felt worth advocating, at no point the topic "Hey, what about we tell each other the things we most think we could help each other with, calibrate with the other's opinion and tell each other about that?" comes up naturally to their minds.
What about the other case, in which they decide to keep it going?
5) Both usually feel that they co-activated the trigger. Relieved and relaxed (and under parasympathetic system's influence), they slowly fade away from relevant things, and talk about lower stake topics. High stake topics are worthy in the pursuit of friendship or alliance. Once alliance has been achieved, it becomes a cost (in their minds) basically because now your opinions can put you outside the circle of that person's interest much more likely than deeper inside.
6) Though topics in which the highest information flow could be achieved are usually abandoned, they are brought back in the beggining of new interactions if the people keep seeing each other for a few days, still as usual they slowly fade away.
7) When the button of friendship is really surely deep down pushed, they talk almost always about what doesn't matter, such as niche gossip, daily events, what they did since last interaction - I mean, how likely is it that in those 26 years, the best I've done happened in the last 2 days? - This obviously is a bad thing, and under our assumption that they either want to know more or do better, it is a cost for both.
8) Also, concomitantly with 7, when people actually do take the trouble of disagreeing, their disagreement frequently is narrow. By narrow here I mean it is something that is distinct mostly at much more coarse grained levels than the one in which they are disagreeing. Basically, in topics that even if one of them changed their mind this would in no way affect their lives very significantly, nor their friendship.
Having a good group of friends is fantastic, one of the most important things you can do for your happiness (Seligman), health, work, attractiveness and networking. Activating the friendship button should be very high on your list of priorities, specially for adults, who don't experience the child/teenage feeling of "getting a new friend" so often.
The recommendation here is just to keep pushing the information flow upwards and talking about what matters most even after the button has been pushed. The risk is substantially lower than your emotion is programmed to tell you. It is lower than what it feels from the inside for the same reason that approach anxiety (engaging a very attractive member of the desired gender) should be substantially less than what it feels from the inside. Namely our brains didn't have time to catch up with the fact that we live in a world which:
a) Has 10³ or more times more accessible people than our natural state.
b) Alliances and friendships are not a matter of daily life and death anymore
c) Social hierarchies are more fluid
d) People are nicer, the better angels of their nature are the ones activated by our environment
e) If you are a LWer, you are likely to be surrounded by people who are particularly nicer, given many of them want to save the world, aid the miserable, or help those who don't exist yet. Your brain is not totally aware of that selection effect. Specially if the person is spatially far from you.
Back to our title question: For two years I had been going to a conference for cryonicists and talking about positive psychology. People's image of me was strongly associated with that idea, and that's what they'd usually engage me about, I suspect they had no idea there were other layers besides that one, so this year to avoid repetition I wore the Effective Altruist hat most of the time. Another attendee goes by the name of Jolly here in LW. I have heard him talk thoroughly about lifestyle, health and diet last few years, but even though I don't know which one, I'll bet he's got good stuff to say about one among: architecture, bronze age, cosmology, dinosaurs, evolution, farms, geology, hydrocarbon, islands, jingles, Korn, liabilities, meta, etc....
Nowadays I get to know awesome people more frequently than in school days, my brain better calibrate for their awesomeness or else I may miss it. All this only works, obviously, when you train your brain to keep finding people's best, and help them to do the same, for instance by using curiosity.
The take away message is, make more friends, engage them more thoroughly, keep the information flow up (in quality, importance, and quantity). And make sure to always tell yourself that you are very unlikely to really, really, already know what that person has to offer.
In doubt, ask for more