It’s ok to use Tech to build relationships

You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink

After writing about the challenges of staying in touch, I’ve had a bunch of people reach out to me and tell me that they too struggle with the same issue. I’d run a poll on LinkedIn, and 40% people said they weren’t very good at keeping touch. So clearly, this seems to be an issue.

When I was talking to a few people to understand the problem deeper, one interesting thing came up. People were not very welcoming to the possibility of using a tool to keep in touch. The biggest reason was that it felt impersonal and transactional. When I shared the idea of RolodexAI to a close friend, they replied saying “This makes me feel like when you meet me its part of a long drawn plan or popped up in some crm or something … its very IMPERSONAL”

I thought about this for a while — was this project going to trivialising relationships and make people feel transactional? After some thought, the answer was no and here’s why I feel so.

A bad relationship with technology

Over the last decade, we’ve seen so many social networks come up. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. However as these platform grew, they started deviating from their original goal and transformed into something totally unrecognisable. Instagram is no longer a photo sharing app but one the most effective visual advertising platform out there. LinkedIn has devolved into this weird quasi — social network, it’s news feed filled with content which is anything but “professional”, and your in-mail filled with messages from either recruiters or sales teams. And Facebook, well, it’s Facebook. However, this has not been the case forever. I still remember when I was in school, using Yahoo Messenger, and how that really helped me talk to people I was shy to talk to in real life. Li Jin talks a little more about this on her podcast, Means of Creation. I won’t get into details, but I think you get the point — we’ve developed a bad relationship with technology which was built to help us with everything “social” because they ended up becoming something which put our relationships second.

Technology is already playing its part today

If you leave your biases aside for a second and think about the areas in which technology plays a big role is keeping us connected, given our recent experience with the pandemic, you’ll find many examples. Zoom is probably the biggest, and despite all the Zoom fatigue, most of you will agree that you rekindled a lot of forgotten and ignored relationships in 2020, and a lot of that happened over Zoom (or Whatsapp Video). Now I’m not saying that they had anything to do with it, but those tools made it easier.

When I compare today to 10 years ago, here are some other ways technology is helping us keep up with relationships today

  1. We don’t remember people’s birthdays — it’s all in the calendar. People still get upset if you don’t remember their birthdays though.
  2. We don’t remember people’s addresses or phone numbers. Imagine this 10 years ago. Before mobiles, I remembered all my friend’s phone numbers and could recite them all without thinking. The same with addresses. Today, people don’t really get upset if you don’t remember their number.

Freeing up your mind and preserving energy

The 2 examples I shared might seem trivial, but they both have one thing in common. They help us remember less and free up mental bandwidth. Our brains are not designed to store infinite amount of information, and if you think about the explosion of information that has happened in the last 10 years, it’s not surprise that we will not remember a lot of things. Every second we are digesting tons of information, processing and trying to make sense of it and then making decisions — and it’s bloody tiring.

And here’s technology, the very things which has created the problem, can comes to our rescue. By eliminating the need to remember and reducing the number of decisions to be made, it can help us preserve energy which can be used in a more effective manner. The best example of this from my own experience is showing up for a meeting exhausted. You’ve spend energy thinking about it and setting it up but you show up tired and it’s an utter waste of time — not only that one hour, but all the minutes you’ve spent planning for it. Over time, it adds up.

Stripping away the mental guzzlers

When I think about what we are trying to do with RolodexAI, we merely want to remove the part of keeping in touch with guzzles too much energy — and this was remembering who a reach out to and matching your calendars so that you’ll can actually speak. In my experience, these things take way too much energy and doesn’t really impact the relationship per se. Let me use the birthday analogy. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter if I remember your birthday, but it matters if I don’t call you to wish you on your birthday. Let me flip that — does it really matter if I remembered your birthday if I called you to wish you? There’s no right answer, but I guess you get the point I’m trying to make. If I want to stay in touch with you, does it really matter how I remembered and decided to call you, as long as I call you? Historically we’ve given memorising too much importance, so in today’s information era, it’s something we’re slowly shedding away. Still a long way to go though.

So with that line of reasoning, I came to the conclusion that No, we were not building something which was going to trivialising relationships and make people feel transactional. At the end of the day, you still need to make the effort and show up and you’ll only do it if it’s important to you. As the famous saying goes “You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink”. In this world of noise and busyness, we’re just making the path to the water easier.

RolodexAI a tool that helps you stay connected to people from your network that you don’t meet often by automating the scheduling of virtual meetings.

a little bit of everything