My incredible shrinking address book
Last week, I was looking up a friend's contact information in my computer's address-book program, noticed the name after his and thought, "When's the last time I ever heard anything from this person?"
A search of my e-mail confirmed that the answer was somewhere between "three years" and "never," after which a tap of the delete key wiped this contact from my list. But then I realized that the individual listed a few spots farther down in my address book had also been a non-entity in my inbox -- and, as her LinkedIn page confirmed, had long since left the company she had been listed under. So I deleted her entry, too.
The thought that I'd been wasting screen space on people with whom I'd never had any interaction somehow bothered me. And so I found myself spending the next hour or so going through my contacts list and repeating the same two searches of various individuals -- one through my e-mail to look up our last communication, one of the Web to check their current employment -- to gauge their address-book eligibility.
I repeatedly found that I'd typed in people's coordinates from business cards after meeting them but had never communicated with them again, and that the vast majority of these people had long since moved on to other jobs. This seems an especially high risk in public relations, where even people who stay with the same firm can change accounts, but I was embarrassed to find that I hadn't corrected listings for a few former Post colleagues who have recently left the paper.
(Tip: If you use Apple's Address Book, you can set up a Smart Group list of address cards that haven't been revised lately: From the File menu, select "New Smart Group..."; in that dialog, select "has not changed in" from the second pull-down menu and then enter an appropriately long value in the days/weeks/months/years field that follows.)
I also kept realizing that my saved e-mail was a better source of business-contact info than my address book -- it helps that e-mail programs automatically complete addresses you've used recently -- while Facebook was a more reliable source for personal contacts. Both of those alternate sources have the advantage of being regularly updated by the people you want to stay in touch with.
It's popular in some circles for people to pronounce that social networks are making e-mail obsolete. But maybe social media are only displacing the address book -- or at least the part of it in which we file away people's "home," "work" and "other" e-mail addresses.
So who stayed in my own address list? Two categories stood out: people with mobile phones listed -- after completing my purge, I actually added a few business contacts who had given me their cell numbers -- and friends and family to whom we send holiday cards. (By "we," I mean my wife, who long ago realized that if she left that task to me we'd be mailing out Groundhog Day cards.)
I'm not going to claim that my address-book cleanup was entirely rational. (For instance, I cannot bring myself to delete my dad's entry, even though he passed away more than a decade ago.) Nor am I going to suggest that everybody can or should think along these lines -- as a contrary example, a D.C.-based reporter I know has 15,000 contacts (!) in his copy of Microsoft Outlook. (He asked what sort of mobile phone would deal most effectively with that many contacts; I had to tell him that I had no idea and had no way of finding out without borrowing his own copy of Outlook.)
I'd like to know the ways you all handle these things. How well do you have to know somebody before they get a spot in your address book, and how do you decide when it's time to delete any one of them?
February 22, 2010; 12:07 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Social media
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