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Keeping Track of Too Many People? The Evolution of My Address Books

Trapper Keeper! Yes!

I recently read a wonderful book called You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier. It’s an analysis of the ways in which technology and the Internet change the ways we interact, and how they impact the reality of what it means to be human.

The major point for me: technologies like social networking (allegedly) reduce what it means to be human. When you set up a user profile, you check boxes that outline your interests, affiliations, etc. No amount of checked boxes can accurately summarize a person, because people are not information, just as the map of a territory is not the territory itself.

I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree yet, but I have thought about it a lot. To examine this, I want to examine the way I have used (or not used) my “contact lists” in the past. My relationship with the address book has changed a lot in the days since I bought my first Trapper Keeper.

Just a few

There was a time when I was only interested in keeping track of a handful of people. My family, of course, and my friends. I saw my family every day at home and I saw most of my friends at school, so there was never any real danger of breaking the connections.

But even back then, I was made aware that in business, keeping tabs on people mattered.

My dad ran a business with his father, Frank-Co Sales. On Saturday mornings I would go sweep for an hour or two. Every Saturday I worked, their secretary would invite me to look at her rolodex. We would flip through the names, numbers, and addresses. I would marvel at how many people she “knew.”

“You need to know where people are,” she said.

Elementary school

I had a trapper keeper with a sunglasses-clad dog skateboarding on the cover. It was awesome. The inner cover had a template where you could write the pertinent information of your best friends. Name, address, phone number. That was about it. I filled it up quickly, swapping information. If you ever had a Trapper Keeper, you know how many features they had. If you were cool, you tried to use everything you could.

Did I need to know any of that information? Not really. It was just for fun.

High school

I only had a few close friends, which is always what I have preferred. I saw them often enough that I could never have forgotten their contact information. I wasn’t using email yet.

I knew their phone numbers and I could drive to their houses. That was enough.

First email account

I didn’t have  an email account I used frequently until my second semester of college. Now I had to be able to receive emails from my professors and other students. My address book started growing, but it was still limited to email address. Phone numbers were optional.

Did I need any of the information? Yes, I had to be in electronic contact with my professors if that was what they preferred. It wasn’t fun.

The first Palm Pilot

One of my friends bought a palm pilot. I had to have one. It was the last thing I needed and the only thing I wanted. “You can keep track of anything!” I told Janette. “We’ll never lose any info again!” I went out and bought a Clie with a gray screen and a clunky interface.

I entered the names and phone numbers and addresses of everyone I could think of. Then I marked down my appointments for the next two weeks–9-5: go to work. Then I put the dumb thing down and never picked it up again. No, it did not leave a void.

Did I need any of that information? Not really. It wasn’t much fun, either.

Social networking and gmail and blogs

Sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Linnked in, or any of the other social networking sites. The options for information you can reveal about yourself are staggering to me.

My gmail contact list is huge. I can’t believe how many people I have exchanged emails with. I have a lot of Facebook friends and have no idea who 99% of them are. The same with Twitter followers.

I am more and more tempted to delete them all. They were fun in the beginning, but now there are so many things to check, so many people to be in contact with…no, nobody is holding a gun to my head to make use of every virtual address book community out there, but I am suddenly very aware of how many things I check in on during the day online. Often, it’s not because of a desire to connect, but a compulsion to connect. A restlessness that manifests if I’m not clicking on something or saying hello to someone.

The most interesting thing to me is that I still only have a handful of very close friends. I rarely interact with any of them online. We still talk on the phone or see each other in person.

Do I need all of this information? Hmm…the answer to that is definitely no. Do I want it all? I’m not so sure anymore. Does anyone need address books that run into the tens of thousands? That is kind of how I’m starting to view any major social network–a massive book of addresses.

That’s the daily ramble. I am going to try an experiment: No social sites other than my blogs for the next week.

Thoughts? How many people are you trying to keep track of? Do you do it because you need to? Love to? Are compelled to?


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  • Kira July 21, 2010, 2:32 am

    I enjoy my social networks—particularly Facebook. They make my life better. And, I’m pleased to say, most of my online friends have let me know that I make their lives better too … WIN WIN 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:26 am

      I know you do, and you’re a perfect example of how they should be used. You are also one person I met through social networking that usually has something interesting to say that I would hate to miss out on.

  • Daniel O'Connor July 21, 2010, 6:19 am


    I struggle with this a lot. I am sure it is in part a generational thing.

    I have begun to use Facebook. I keep up with my far flung family and friends. I have also created a couple of Facebook pages for my blog and future site Katanabuilders were I have begun to show the process of building a Japanese sword forge. The pages I think are a good way to connect with people who are not close to me. So, I can see some value here.

    But, Twitter!?? I have an account but I am not active. It seems that it requires too much time and attention for the benefit received.

    So for me now it is my blog, personal Facebook for friends and family and Facebook pages for “business”.

  • Srinivas Rao July 21, 2010, 7:46 am

    Hey Josh,

    This is a particularly interesting subject for me at the current time. If you’ve read the Tipping Point, you know about the rule of 150 to make ideas spread. I decided to take the approach to all my twitter efforts for the course of the next quarter to see if it really does have a more powerful effect. Apparently, there are structural impediments that occur when we go over the 150 mark so I can totally relate to much of what you are talking about here.

    In the social world, I know alot of people. But oddly enough my favorite events are the ones where it’s me and a few of my closest friends hanging out at dinner rather than lots of people I know at a big party.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:25 am

      Srinivas, I’ve more or less quit marketing on FB and Twitter. My traffic has grown, not decreased.

  • John July 21, 2010, 8:22 am

    I think “compulsion to connect” is the right way to say it. I think in most cases you have to put the blame on the user versus the tool (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc). These sites can all serve a legitimate purpose, but when you have people competing to see how many “friends” or “followers” they have you’ve missed the point.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:24 am

      I’m separating the desire to connect from the compulsion. For me, compulsion is “Why am I thinking about logging in when I know I don’t want to?” “Why am i starting to think in FB updates?”

  • Dallas July 21, 2010, 8:25 am

    I agree with you, I find it funny to watch a group of teenage girls “hang out” with each other and they are all on their phones txting, tweeting, etc. I find it amazing how there are so many people that spend time right next to someone important and all they do is read their phone or iPad or what have you.
    All this technology to make our lives simpler has really taken away the human element. I really like the movie ‘Wally’ I think it shows where society seems to be going, everyone with each other but occupied by something or someone else. I often feel like the phone or friend a thousand miles away is more important than I am and I am standing right here! I don’t think an acquaintance in High school should care if I am doing dishes or on the way out the door.
    I, however also have many Facebook friends (I only log in once every few weeks) and a very large contact list. I think it is great to be able to keep connections and more importantly network to better ones self and career. But I believe that is what it is for and it should not occupy every spare minute you have.
    I am interested to see what you notice and have to say about your experiment next week.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:23 am

      Hey Dallas! How are you? I heard from your sister not too long ago:) You’re wrong: your dish-washing activities are thrilling to me. That’s the only reason I ever went to FB.

  • DJ July 21, 2010, 9:47 am

    I’m following a series of articles about “quitting” the Internet: http://www.slate.com/id/2249562/entry/2249563/.
    On one hand, I’d like to try that; but on the other hand, I would need access to e-mail. Or so I think. 🙂

  • Rachel July 21, 2010, 10:10 am

    I really decided that I hated Facebook. It was meaningless chatter with people that I never see and people that I probably never will see. It didn’t make me feel better about keeping in touch with people but instead made me feel guilty that I wasn’t doing more. I also felt compelled to check it like 30 times a day so that I didn’t miss anything, which was a real time waster. So I canceled my account and have really enjoyed it.:) Sometimes I want to get back on, but I think that’s because I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to miss out on anything.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:21 am

      I don’t hate it, but I do hate wasting time when I know I should be doing something else. I do not think I am a FB addict, but it is on my mind more than I can explain.

  • Kellye Parish July 21, 2010, 10:57 am

    Myspace closed down my entire account after a phisher took it over in my absence. They erased all of my writings and poetry (some of it found in nowhere else) with absolutely no prior notice or communication with me as a human being. Screw Myspace. Needless to say, I never activated a new account or went back.

    As far as Facebook goes, I don’t use it anymore, but I do have a profile page left over from university (never visited anymore, nor updated). I don’t use Twitter anymore either, but I did use it heavily for a brief period to help spread pertinent information during the Iranian Revolt of 2009.

    My main presence on the Net is my fiction writing blog at Wordpress, and as a poster on several varied message boards. I have just recently begun to use my blogroll to keep track of professional acquaintances, authors, etc…

    I like to keep up with other people on a casual basis, especially random strangers who share more common interests with me than people in my “real life” do. I just have no interest in what kind of sandwich my friends are eating real-time or that they just got back from the dentist (which is the kind of relatively useless information Facebook constantly subjects you to.)

    I am trying to make an effort currently to do more outreach in the online writing community though, so I can get a feel for who I’m running shoulder-to-shoulder with.

    • Josh Hanagarne July 21, 2010, 11:20 am

      That stinks, I’m sorry you lost your writing.

      • Kellye Parish July 21, 2010, 11:27 am

        Thanks, it was awhile back (during university) so hopefully the work that I lost wasn’t worth much to begin with. And a lot of it was self-indulgent anyway. So maybe Myspace just did me a favor and saved me from major embarrassment down the road.

        Anyway, it was part of one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned as a writer: Back it up, back it up, and if you still aren’t sure, for God’s sake back it up again.

  • Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things July 21, 2010, 5:11 pm

    I keep going on purges for my social networking sites. Every now and then I go through facebook & twitter (especially twitter) and get rid of the people I’m “following” that I don’t really “follow.”

    I do like to keep up with people from college though and I think facebook is a pretty good way to do that.

  • Alastair August 1, 2010, 2:33 am

    “It was the last thing I needed and the only thing I wanted.”
    Boy, Josh, you really made me chuckle with this little phrase. I smiled when I realised that you had neatly summed up most of my technology affliction. Good post by the way