Families

Ana Veciana-Suarez: Can friendship apps bring us closer together?

You're doing something mindless – washing dishes, folding laundry, pulling weeds – when you suddenly realize you haven't heard from a friend in a while. Or you remember a cousin's birthday. A brother's new job. Your daughter's anniversary. So you reach out. You call or text.

Simple, right? Nothing but a little convo between two people, an exchange as old as dirt and as common as the sniffles in kindergarten.

Precisely why Silicon Valley has decided friendship is ready for disruption. Or better said, techies want to move us beyond Facebook and LinkedIn, to a world where we manage connections with the same efficiency we try to impose on the workplace.

Prepare for friendship on a spreadsheet.

I just read a piece about how the hottest app categories are ones trying to optimize our bonds with amigos. They go beyond the finding-a-friend apps like Meetup and Hey! Vina. These apply customer relationship software, a business concept, to personal relationships. I guess it's a little like handing out an agenda to your children during a family pow-wow.

Honestly, I've never heard of the names Airtable and Notion, but a quick look at their websites helped me understand how their methodology could be attractive for the busy and harried. Which is pretty much everyone these days.

Airtable, for example, prides itself on its ability to link related concepts and relationships between different groups. Notion describes itself as an all-in-one workspace for note-taking, project management and task management. Now imagine your friends and acquaintances as one big mass that needs to be massaged into a logical structure. Helpful, no?

Well, maybe. I'm an old-fashioned friendship maker who believes relationships grow organically, over time and with nurturing. The older I get, the more I treasure the close alliances I've made with others at school, at playdates, at work. But I also understand the appeal of organization and maximation. After all, friendships (like love) can be messy and muddled, hard to maintain when we can barely keep our heads above water at work and home.

While I'm fortunate to have several circles of friends, this doesn't mean I can throw them together in a room willy-nilly. Food preferences, political affiliations, conflicting interests and unusual personality traits can make for a chaotic event. But ... just imagine how easy it would be to draw up an invitation list – or put together seating arrangements for a wedding – if one could toggle among columns and rows.

I know this all sounds kind of nerdy, but there was a piece on NPR recently that suggested organizing your friendships will help you make new friends and keep old ones. Among other recommendations: write a list of conversation topics, take notes during a hangout, make a recurring calendar to send invites for future meetings.

An Irish startup called Monaru, which bills itself as a virtual assistant for personal relationships, works along those lines. It helps you keep tabs on your 10 to 15 closest relationships by providing "regular suggestions and reminders that help users be more thoughtful and intentional with their close family and friends." It's a little creepy to think that your BFF is reaching out because an app reminded her, but the advantages of Monaru outweigh the awkwardness. That's because Monaru also gives you suggestions for gifts and restaurants. No more forgetting your mother's birthday. Or your wife's dress size.

It's comforting to know that algorithms are ironing out the wrinkles of our rumpled lives. What a boon for families everywhere! Nevertheless, there are some relationships that are best left to wither on the vine. Will the next big idea be a breakup app that uses a mathematical equation to figure out the friend not worth keeping?

(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at avecianasuarez@gmail.com or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)

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