The Creator of Humans of New York on Why We’re Captivated By His Stories

‘I think we tend to empathize with people's problems more than we empathize with their successes.’

On the most recent episode of The Thrive Global Podcast with iHeartRadio, Brandon Stanton, creator of the viral photo-blog Humans of New York, told Thrive Global CEO and founder Arianna Huffington why it is that his blog resonates with so many people.

Part of it is that his photos combine “this random person that you’re seeing on the street that you know nothing about and is completely anonymous, with a quote or revelation that was often kind of deeply personal,” he told Huffington.

And while a lot of people he interviews and photographs say funny things, what resonates with his audience are relatable hardships. “Even though these can be some of the hardest to read, I think that it’s probably when the work is at its best and most meaningful,” Stanton said. “Because I think we tend to empathize with people’s problems more than we empathize with their successes.” Stanton asks people about their struggles because “it puts people in a light that other people might not have considered them,” which can create empathy and understanding.

Another reason why the blog has grown so popular is because of a basic human desire to “know about the people around us,” Stanton said. “It’s why we like to people watch.” Stanton thinks that part of why Humans of New York caught on so quickly was because his photos were able to “scratch that itch,” giving us glimpses into the lives of people who would otherwise be anonymous strangers.

The glimpses that Stanton offers—of people sharing their most personal struggles—are refreshingly real for social media, which people often use “to brand themselves or present themselves in an image that they want to be seen as,” Stanton said. “What you have in your News Feed is kind of the highlight reels of people’s lives. And I think when you’re scrolling down your News Feed and you’re seeing, this person bought this house, this person had this child, this person’s kid just graduated, and all these happy, happy, happy, happy moments, that might make you feel bad about yourself,” he said.

“Then suddenly, you have this very intimate portrait of a stranger who’s talking about something that they’re really struggling with, and they might not choose to broadcast on social media. I think that really stands out in an environment where everyone is kind of posturing, and I think it allows for a moment of connection that might be more difficult to achieve otherwise.”

To hear the full conversation, click here.

You can also listen to the Thrive Global Podcast internationally for free on iTunes and Stitcher.

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