I recently went through my phone and cleared out a bunch of old contacts. It was mostly people from jobs long gone, either coworkers or external people like vendors. Some dated back to grad school. There were a few from my softball playing days, people I’d call if I needed subs. And there were a surprising number who’d passed away.
My address book has been with me a long, long time. It started as a Quattro Pro spreadsheet, which should give you some idea of the vintage. 1992 maybe? Right about the first time I quit my job for a career reboot. (I do this every ten years or so, it appears.) Anyway, I kept that spreadsheet up to date and would occasionally print it out and stuff it in my backpack or briefcase or whatever manpurse device I favored at the time. That first iteration of the document would have been heavy with people from my first “real” job as the IT guy at an architecture firm and some people from grad school, in addition to the entries of family, and people from high school and Northwestern, many of which are active in that database’s successor today.
Maybe five years later, I got my first Palm Pilot, and decided that was the place for my contacts from then on. After some looking around, I realized there was no way to export/import them directly. So I took my trusty printout, and then, during a road trip to Iowa with The Good, I sat in the van and entered all that data by hand, using Graffiti. In addition to the original rows in the database, by this point there would have been a fairly large influx of people from my work in telecom, and other people I was dealing with in the music scene around town at that time.
It was probably another five years after that when I got my first cell phone that had any sort of address book capability. I think it was a Nextel, issued for work. By that time, there was some more sane method for exporting the Palm database via their desktop app into the phone. I was living in the future, man. All I had to do was press about 15 numeric keys in a precise, absolutely unforgiving order and I had access to all that data right there in a half-pound device on my hip. I’d come so far from that silly piece of paper in my backpack. New entries here would have been my coworkers from fintech, and a large number of people who’d recently become in-laws of various sorts.
Not too much later, I got my first Mac, a 17” PowerBook G5 that had a case made of what must have been solid uranium and weighed about a billion pounds. I dumped the Nextel and got some very small, exotic flip phoneish thing that was the size of a pager. I had to buy some additional software for syncing, but I got my data off the old phone and into Address Book on the Mac. Then I tried to sync that to the exotic little phone I bought unlocked from some dealer in Hong Kong, and the data was corrupted in an equally exotic fashion, with random Hanzi glyphs inserted here and there. Mercifully, I had a backup, and after spending perhaps a week of my life experimenting, I got them working, though I never fully trusted that phone again and often carried the spacetime-warping laptop around for good measure. The ever-growing contact database now featured various vendors and others associated with my first small business: lawyers, architects, accountants, the landlord.
That Address Book database is still the primary. I made a half-assed attempt at getting it synced with my Google contacts, whatever those even mean, but anyone who has ever tried that sort of thing knows the sadness and frustration that lies down that road. Forget it. I got your cloud right here. I want something heavier, I think.
For the first time in 20 years, I took a look at it the other day and decided it was time to clean house. I’m never going to see those fellow grad students or softball players again, nor will I be calling those same data circuit salesmen or the Department of Buildings in Evanston. I have to be honest: there were a few in there I don’t remember at all, from anywhere.
Perhaps oddly, I am lately adding lots of new contacts for people at my current, soon-to-be-former job. (Two weeks to go, BTW.) And there is a good chance I’ll be in touch. Some have become friends. Others, I may need for references down the road. My sector is small and the odds are high we’ll cross paths if I stay in it. It’s also possible in 20 years I’ll look at some of them on my heads-up display and triple-blink with my left eye, causing them to disappear in a little animated puff of smoke. Hard to know that now, but it’s the kind of thing on my mind lately.
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