Friendship Maintenance Services are Borderline Sociopathic

Using a program to manipulate your friends into believing you care about them is gross

Read the other side of the debate here.

Customer relations management is an important part of running a successful business. Like many other aspects of work, it can be automated to a certain extent. You can use apps to keep track of your client engagement and remind you of when you should check in on customers and invite them to lunch and stuff. This makes sense in cases where money can be made or lost based on monitoring accounts, but taking that technology and applying it to personal relationships is a step too far.

Take Monaru for example—a service that offers to help you manage your friendships for $20 a month, unless you make it to the top of a waitlist for a free version. It can keep track of people you want to stay in contact with, and even suggest gift ideas for them based on their interests. I recognize that the platform was made with good intentions, but I also think it’s kind of sociopathic. Their slogan is “effortless thoughtfulness.” Oxymoron of the day.

“You decide how much time you want to set aside to invest in these relationships,” says Monaru’s website. 

Ranking people and clinically dividing your commitment among them doesn’t leave room for the nuances and natural cadence of human connections.

I set reminders like these to water plants. I record meetings and appointments on my phone. I set timers for baking lasagna. 

But I’m not obsessing over how dry the soil is in my plant pots every day. I’m not sitting in front of my oven counting every second until I can pull out some food.

People aren’t dental appointments, or plants, or lasagna, and they need genuine consideration and thoughtfulness.

If you used a service or app to find gift ideas for a friend’s birthday, would you tell them afterwards? Or would you feel compelled to take credit? How would the other person feel if they learned the truth?

“Wow, thanks Greg! It’s just what I wanted! That’s so thoughtful. How did you know?”

“My app told me. It articulated your preferences and generated personalized suggestions so I wouldn’t have to waste time thinking about you.”

“Oh.”

“It was completely effortless!”

“Um…”

“You’re welcome! Happy 37th birthday, Jennifer. Enjoy the tickets to Oklahoma! which is apparently your favourite musical.”

Sadly, Greg was not invited to Jennifer’s 38th birthday. She did have a great time seeing Oklahoma! without him, though.

Say you used the app for a few months and people started seeing you as a great and thoughtful friend. Would they continue to feel that way if you suddenly stopped using the app? If you can honestly answer, “Yes,” then you clearly don’t need the service to help you. You’re already capable of taking care of things yourself. If you answer, “No,” then it means that they were really just friends with a program, and that your involvement in the relationship was less relevant than it would have been otherwise. Tragic.

Monaru’s website cites Robin Dunbar’s idea “that humans can only maintain about 150 relationships” before reaching their cognitive limit.

Even using the term “maintain” makes having a relationship sound like a chore. “Maintenance” is what happens when someone removes graffiti from the door of a neglected food court bathroom stall. It’s what happens when someone scoops aquatic scum from the bottom of a fish tank, or fixes an unreliable vending machine that likes to ensnare bags of Sour Patch kids with its cruel, unrepentant silver coils. “Maintenance” refers to the things people don’t want to do unless they have to.

If you need to rely on a digital egg-timer to “maintain” your friendships, you have deeper issues than just time management, and the only thing these services can offer you is a way to mask your denial that you need to try harder at being a good friend.

The supply and demand for services like these reflects a culture that increasingly relies on technology to enhance or control aspects of how we live. A lot of the time, we forget that most of it is completely unnecessary, but the people who understand that artificial thoughtfulness is counterintuitive—and gross—don’t need to be reminded of that.

They already know.

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