As a teenager growing up in the new millennium, one of my most dreaded waking moments was when the monthly telephone bill would come home. Invariably, my dad’s forehead vein would start throbbing as he would realise that his incorrigible daughter had racked up the bill once again just because she couldn’t stop yakking away with her school/college friends she would hang out with all day long, and call them up for a minute to share one tiny detail that would stretch into an hour.
A couple of years later would see my generation of middle-class city kids being handed their first cellular phones. But the weight of itemised mobile phone bills—at a time when chatting for 0.59 seconds was the real victory (you know it if you know it)—was too heavy to bear for someone who could talk endless to the army of girlfriends and love interests. My obsession with the phone might have been a byproduct of the time when accessible tech was rapidly changing, coupled with the fact that hormones were raging too. But I always thought of long phone calls with friends as a basic necessity of life.
Cut to mid-2019 and one of my closest friends, Bee, who had just then decided to make use of Canada’s easy immigration policies and promise of clean air—one I can only dream of—sends me an ‘invitation’ on Google Calendar, asking to block a half hour that I usually spend commuting to office, for a catch-up call with her. Ten years ago, my mobile phone operator had a scheme that allowed me to pay Rs 49 and talk to one particular number for unlimited time. I had chosen Bee. Today, I had an app reminding me to be her friend.
There’s an app for everything today—from purging all Kardashian content from your life to the one that tells you the best times to run and pee during a movie so you don't miss the best scenes, to a map of all the places you’ve pooped in. But until about six months ago, I wouldn't have believed that the same app that reminds me of my meetings with colleagues and other professional tasks everyday, would be harnessed to sustain relationships, even if they felt like chores on a to-do list.
Because at the time, I firmly held that such apps and services are supposed to make me more efficient and productive, not make sense of my friendships. If this is okay, then what's ahead? Laying out a schedule of my next date on an Excel sheet; having automated messages sent to the boy at varying hours to remind him I loved him but which also knows when I’m pissed off about him not having done laundry so auto-unsending the messages as well; having an app to automatically unfriend those it perceives as negative influences in my life after tracking my heart rate around them (that one actually exists)?
It turns out that after the Calendar invite, Bee and I actually managed to catch up in the time slot we had set aside just for ourselves. But even as I still grapple with my own evolution, it seems that a lot of people around me are already using tech to manage their relationships.
This has led to the rise of ‘personal CRM’ apps—CRM standing actually for the ultra boring-sounding Customer Relationship Management but, in this case, working for your personal life. On offer are apps and services offering everything from helping remember friends’ babies’ names, to setting reminders to text your pals and manage the frequencies with which you want to meet some of them, to slotting calendar dates in order to pick up gifts for occasions, and getting instant search results of people you’ve keyed in.
While most of them also have in-built features for helping you amp your professional efficacy, networking and time management, many of them promise to help you “strengthen your relationships” or “be the most thoughtful person you know”. Clearly, it’s an epidemic. There are way too many people with too much time to catch up on their Netflix buffet but too little to pick up the phone.
The idea of using a database, making a friendship spreadsheet, and colour-coding my friendships (so I know the ones in green need more time than the ones in violet) is not really my scene. But that’s what I thought about Google Calendar too not so long ago. I also remember when Facebook came around, I was a bit sad that it now served as a cheat sheet for my birthday reminders. Much before that, when cellphones came around, memorising phone numbers ceased to serve as the pressure-test of my friendships.
But today, I used the Calendar to slot in time to buy a birthday gift for the cousin I love, so I needn’t have to settle for a last-minute generic perfume just before the party. I also have another Google Hangout date with the soon-to-be Canadian friend, which the Calendar will promptly beep about 11 days from today. But I still leave my love messages and catch-up calls with the ones most important, to impulse. I still call mom on my way to work without having anyone remind me that it’s been a while. But judging by past experience, I am guessing I should never say never.
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