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.
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.
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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