Response to Greenfeld's System to Stay in Touch with Hundreds of People

Published on by Negate This


Recently, I was browsing Hacker News and came upon Jakob Greenfeld’s piece The simple system I’m using to stay in touch with hundreds of people. Feel free to read this piece, as it’s not very long and it could prove useful to some people. A quick summary of it is that Jakob managed to implement Derek Sivers’s method of staying in touch with hundreds of people, by which you categorize people into four levels of importance that dictate how often you should contact them. Sort of like MySpace’s top friends feature but even more punishing.

Although Greenfeld’s piece was genuinely interesting, I came out of it rather disappointed. For as good as his method of keeping in touch with people may be, it’s not something I would feel comfortable doing myself or being a part of.

For one, I have no desire to categorize people into different levels of importance. I don’t even think it’s possible to do that, and I’m sure the people I’m contacting wouldn’t be comfortable knowing that they’re merely a D list acquaintance to me. Sivers refers to the D list people as “demoted,” which surprised me at first until I found out he’s an entrepeneur. Founder of CD Baby, in fact. Weird way of refering to people when you’re supposed to sincerely care how they are when you contact them, but I guess the entrepeneurial mindset doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

Greenfeld implemented this system in Airtable and created a formula that automatically calculates when the next date of contact should be for a someone depending on what you’ve ranked them. Then, on that date you get an e-mail reminding you to contact them somehow. Once the table is populated with contacts and rankings, there’s not much else the user has to do besides update when they’ve last talked to someone so that the table can recalculate the next date of contact, a process which Greenfeld says only takes 15 minutes per day.

That’s the thing, though. Outside of building the table, you’re not really providing much input into this system. You’ve automated the task of simply remembering people who should be important to you, but if you really wanted to remember them in a genuine manner, wouldn’t you just remember them? This system abstracts away the need to even remember someone, something I think is an important part of human relationships.

I understand wanting to make sure you don’t forget someone so that your relationship doesn’t die, but is that really so bad? Why should there be a feeling of uneaniness when slowly losing friends? Not every friendship has to last forever, after all, and artificially stretching one out ain’t gonna save it.

Personally, I’ve had lots of amazing friends throughout the years, some of whom gave me the best years of my life so far and who I still love, but whom I haven’t spoken with in many years, and that’s perfectly okay. Some of those friends I do still talk to after many years, and that’s great! We’ve been able to organically continue our friendship, and I love them for that. I also still love those old friends that I no longer talk to, though, or at least their memories. I don’t need an algorithm to dig out my memories of them, and I don’t want to need an algorithm, so I won’t bother giving an algorithm that power in any capacity.

I can’t help but think this system is technochauvinist, in a sense. The problem of losing friends or not even having time to remember them won’t be solved by creating some weird algorithmic system to poke at your brain every day. You gotta do that work yourself. Or don’t.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I just don’t think I’d do this personally, but I guess there’s nothing wrong if you decide this system is good for you.