It’s always when I’m doing something mindless like chores or paperwork that a memory reminding me of an old friend is triggered.
I was looking out the window last night while loading the dishwasher when an extremely loud car drove by my house, which instantly reminded me of an old friend from university whose pet peeve was cars with a deliberately loud exhaust. I haven’t talked to him in years, though I saw him posting pictures recently of a trip to Palm Springs.
One day I was folding laundry with music on in the background and when a Bananarama song came on I was instantly transported back to a late 1980s sleepover with one of my friends from elementary school. God, I haven’t seen her in years, I wonder how she’s doing?
I always say to myself, “You’ll have to send her a message later.” And sometimes I do. And a lot of times I carry on with my day and completely forget. Not that I don’t care about the people I know, but just because these things get away from me. I can admit that because, having had many conversations about this over the years, I know everyone is in the same boat.
Precisely why Silicon Valley has decided friendship is ready for the same kind of organization that has taken over every other facet of human behaviour. Techies want to move us beyond Facebook and Twitter, to a world where we manage connections with the same efficiency we try to impose on the workplace.
Prepare for friendship on a spreadsheet.
I just read a piece about how the hottest app categories are ones trying to optimize our bonds with friends. They go beyond the finding-a-friend apps where you make new friends, instead applying customer relationship software, a business concept, to personal relationships. (I liken the whole idea to handing out a detailed itinerary at a bachelorette party.)
Honestly, I’ve never heard of the names Airtable and Notion, but a quick look at their websites helped me understand how their methodology could be attractive for busy people – so pretty much everyone, these days.
Airtable, for example, prides itself on its ability to link related concepts and relationships between different groups, and enable efficient task management based on those connections. Imagine your friends and acquaintances as one big mass that needs to be massaged into a logical structure: their wedding anniversary, last time you spoke to them, upcoming mutual events. Helpful, no?
Well, maybe. Most people in my demographic are old-fashioned friendship makers and maintainers who believe relationships grow and sustain organically. The older I get, the more I value a phone call from an old friend that a Facebook message will never be able to replace.
But I also understand the appeal of organization. When you have a busy family and work life, it can be hard to manage friendships, I won’t lie. After you work all day and get the kids to bed, you want to relax and unwind, not make a schedule of phone calls and messages.
While I’m fortunate to have several circles of friends, this doesn’t mean I can set a date, throw them together in a room, and get my friendship maintenance taken care of in one fell swoop; geography, personality conflicts, differing interests, and a million other things prevent that. So cultivating a great many circles, let alone individual friendships, can be challenging.
An Irish startup called Monaru, which bills itself as a virtual assistant for personal relationships, works along those lines. It helps you keep tabs on your 10 to 15 closest relationships by providing “regular suggestions and reminders that help users be more thoughtful and intentional with their close family and friends.”
It’s a little creepy to think that your friend is reaching out because an app reminded her, but the advantages of Monaru outweigh the awkwardness, don’t you think? If you weren’t important, she wouldn’t have set a reminder for you.
Or is the value of a friendship measured by whether or not you need a reminder? I’m not sure I’m comforted by an algorithm worrying about me instead of a person. Maybe an app like that would be more helpful for friendships outside your immediate circle, the ones you can’t or don’t cultivate as regularly.
Or maybe an app like that is everything that’s wrong with humans these days. It’s hard to say.