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In the Pursuit of Meaningful Interactions: Miguel Luis

Posted on Jul 30, 2018 by

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Pick a card, then pick your brain. Be honest, sincere, and vulnerable. This game is all about authentic human connection.

That’s how the description of the So Cards project begins on Kickstarter. You can read the rest to find out how you can use them and what they are meant for. Miguel is a photographer and filmmaker who came up with the idea for this project. He wants to inspire people to have deeper conversations and closer interactions; to help create stronger bonds and a better community. Will a deck of cards with questions really be up to this task? There is only one way to find out: bring them when you meet your friends and start “playing”.

Miguel is promoting his project on Instagram by inviting various people to answer one of the 52 questions. He also takes a portrait of each person who answered. I was one of the people invited to take part in his project and I accepted because I liked the idea (I also liked the portraits he had on the website, so I wanted to have one too :D). In front of the camera, I was a bit shy, because I’m used to being the one behind it, but I didn’t have much trouble answering the question. Although it was the first time we met, talking about deeper topics than the weather didn’t feel odd, but rather liberating.

To be honest, I’m tired of the usual smalltalk that seems to follow a certain template and seems to be very common in the Netherlands — “Where are you from? How long have you been living here? Why did you move? Do you speak Dutch?” — followed by half an hour of talking about the weather, then that’s it, moving to the next person, not much to say here anymore. I feel as if these conversations put a barrier between us and often wonder why people wouldn’t move the conversation further, outside the boundaries of the template. So, at the next party I’m going, maybe there will be a deck of So Cards to improve our interaction.

I also wanted to ask Miguel a few questions of my own, and he accepted. Here is a short interview with him.

Miguel Luis 01

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Ever since I was a kid, I would go through these cycles of curiosity and creation. I’m a serial obsessor, really. I’d latch onto something, learn as much as I can, then try to do my own version. For instance, I got into dinosaurs when I was three or four. I consumed every dinosaur book I could find and even tried “inventing” some of my own. Throughout the years, I’ve gotten into music, design, photography, and filmmaking. Eventually, this led to a stint as a documentary and commercial director. I learned most of the craft during my time in California, then I did it as a professional in the Philippines and around Southeast Asia. Now, I’m in Amsterdam. I’ve been on break from making films, but I’ve been keeping up with the same cycle of learning and making.

Why did you choose Amsterdam and how do you feel about this choice now, after living here for one year?

I’ve always wanted to live in Europe at some point of my life. I initially wanted to go to Berlin as I’d already had plenty of friends there, and I felt quite at home with that culture. There was a lot of paperwork (Bureaucracy? In Germany? What a surprise!) and I had to wait for months before I could get a decision from the embassy. In the meantime, I plotted out a few backup plans — one of them was to pursue a masters degree. When the University of Amsterdam emailed to tell me I’d been accepted to their Media Studies program, I just had to take that opportunity.

It took me a few months to really get used to this environment, but now it has really grown on me. The sense of work-life balance, the abundance of nature, the incredible architecture, and just the sheer beauty of every nook and cranny in this city is almost overwhelming. On top of that, it was so easy to set up a business here. It took me about forty minutes to set up a company! That sort of efficiency is really something else.

Miguel Luis 02

How did you come up with the idea for So Cards?

I’ve spent years making documentaries. An essential part of the process is conducting interviews with all these fascinating individuals. Most of the time, I would only get thirty minutes to an hour with a person. Of course, I had to come up with questions that would break down their walls within that span of time. After all these projects, I’d built up this internal database of questions that cut through the façade. One of the most satisfying parts is when I could sense the person opening up, moving past the pre-scripted answers, and revealing what really made them tick. Sometime last year, I wondered if there might be a way to share this experience with other people. One night, in a burst of restless creativity, I wrote down all these questions. The next night, I cut them down to fifty-two (I’d already started considering the form of a playing card deck.) Then on the third, I designed a simple package, which has mostly stayed the same to this day.

For a while though, it was just a little side project. Friends and family would buy the hand-cut prints. It was a neat idea, but I never got the chance to really focus on it. Work got in the way. Eventually, university did as well.

Now that I’m done with the program and I’ve got no other projects on my plate, I had no excuse. I figured it was the best time to really try to build something. The problem was, I had no capital.

Hence, the Kickstarter campaign. It started in mid-July and is ending on the 9th of August. The goal is to get enough money to print out a batch, send them out to all the backers, and have some leftover to get this business running.

So far, while it did not have a meteoric rise, the support has been going steady through word-of-mouth. There is no mass marketing scheme, no PR — just a community of individuals who believe in authenticity and connection. That kind of support has filled me with gratitude.

I understand that this is not just about the deck of cards, but do you have bigger plans for it?

Here’s what I want to make clear — this isn’t just about a product. It’s about spreading a culture that I believe in. Unlike the usual advertising model of creating content to promote a product, I’m creating product to fund content. The Instagram page is a gallery of people sharing their stories through the questions they’ve picked out. It’s a place for others to find perspectives they’d never considered or opinions they never knew anyone else shared. I want to keep churning out this content, eventually even leading to a video series all about getting people to open up.

Selling these decks paves the way towards that.

Miguel Luis 03

I like the idea of inspiring meaningful conversation. I find that people usually are very afraid of opening up, and I have experienced this more in the Netherlands, where all my friendships are (relatively) new. I am curious if you have noticed, after introducing people to your cards, whether they continued to be more open also in their future interactions (so, not just while you were playing the game)?

I have legitimately started friendships with these cards. See, one person’s vulnerability gives others permission to be vulnerable too. Sure, the first few cards might result in some reservation, but after three or four, I find that most walls start breaking down. There’s a level of sincerity and earnestness that these discussions bring out. At least, if people are willing to really put themselves out there. Of course there will always be people who will insist on staying in their relational fortress, and I would never claim that these cards would result in instant friendships, but in many cases, it has worked as a catalyst to connection.

Did you make new friends in the Netherlands? Was it easy or not?

I do have my share of friends in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder than anywhere else. At a certain age, most people figure out whom they get along with and how to find them. Any difficulty has more to do with life as an adult. It’s not as simple as when you’re a kid and you bond over the fact that you have the same lunchbox or are into the same TV shows. We’re a lot more particular with our taste. Plus, people are just busier in general, so sometimes, the time it takes to truly get to know someone can be a real logistical challenge.

There is a big discussion nowadays about social media promoting superficial friendships and loneliness. What is your opinion about that? Do you think social media is connecting us or making us lonelier?

As someone who has lived on three different continents, I’m grateful for social media. It has made it much easier to maintain all these friendships that span across various time zones. That said, the convenience of finding about everyone’s present lives with a tap of a finger could sometimes trick us into forgetting the actual essentials of friendship. Sure, it’s nice to get a comment or a “like” from someone you haven’t seen in ages –- it’s a bit of an acknowledgement that yes, they have been keeping tabs on you. However, friendships don’t grow from mutually sharing each other’s highlights. Growth comes out of digging those roots deeper in the mud and mess of it all. Social media doesn’t necessarily advocate a culture of vulnerability. We ask for authenticity, but only to a certain degree.

Yes, social media is keeping us connected, but we must always remember to take a moment and evaluate the actual quality of these connections. Are these real branches that you can sit on, or are they more like a series of twigs that would send you crashing down as soon as you pressed your weight against them?

Miguel Luis 04

What makes you happy?

I find a lot of satisfaction in coming up with new ideas, and even more from bringing them to life. I’m also happy when I’m present in a moment with the people I’m closest to — the people I feel most myself with.

To wrap things up, one random question which I picked from your deck of cards: What’s one thing that everyone else seems to like that you could never get into?

Considering my background in video, this might seem strange, but I could never get into vlogging. I have plenty of friends who have done it and more than a handful have told me to try it. I’ll admit I’d thought of it, but I just could never commit to some sort of regular series with just me going on and on in front of the camera. Plus, there are moments when I feel like having a camera around would tarnish its beauty. As much as I love documenting life and capturing memories, there’s something about vlogging that keeps you from just being present, and instead you’re constantly thinking of how you are presenting yourself to the world. Of course, I’ll still post slices of my life through travel photography and Instagram stories, but I would prefer to always keep my privacy as an option.

Miguel Luis
Director | Photographer |

Later edit: So Cards project was successful and the cards deck can be purchased now and delivered worldwide. Miguel didn’t stop there and continued with organising “Skip the Small Talk” events and he was even invited to speak at TEDx Amsterdam. 



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