Every Person I Saw in 2018: An Experiment in Documentation and Friendship
At the end of 2017, my wife and I sat across the table from our close friends as we reflected on the past year in NYC and Jersey City. Sharing a bottle of wine and in no particular rush, we reminisced about our year together– weekends upstate cooking meals with each other (“Oh so THAT is what al fresco means”), walking around the neighborhood and getting ice cream (“You prefer vanilla??”), and the recent holiday party white elephant gift exchange (toilet paper??).
The other couple agreed that it’s so nice that we see each other so much.
I quickly disagreed.
“But we don’t see you guys very much!” That 10 minute argument led me to an experiment and documentation challenge I simply called “Friends I Saw in 2018.”
I began with a few questions I want to explore:
What do I mean when I say “we hang out a lot”?
Who do I spend the most time with?
Are the people I see most are actually the people I want to see the most?
I see my family more than my friends, but even the people I hang out with the most, I see less often than I would like.
I kept track in a few ways. First, I took photos of just about every in-person hangout of 2018 and created a Google Photos album.
Then, I started a spreadsheet, where month-by-month I could track who I saw, when, and what we did. Row 1 was my calendar, labeled 1–31. And each subsequent row was a person. At the end of each month, I added the totals to the previous months and had my year total tab. I also kept track of phone calls, just to see what the data would reveal. And lastly, run-ins. I’ve always felt that the more run-ins or accidental, unplanned, and quick meetups you have with people make the city feel small and neighborhood-y. I love that, so I wanted to see how often I actually run into people I know on the train, in a random coffee shop, at the gym, or wherever.
I started on January 1 and kept it going every day of 2018. I had a few rules. If I planned to see that person, I knew their name and had some sort of interaction with them, I added them to the list. Giving a talk, I wouldn’t put in the 300 people I spoke to. But if I lead a workshop for 30 people and had a list of those who bought tickets, I added them (that only happened twice). The data is not perfect. For example, if I got coffee with someone and spent 45 minutes, they were added to the list. And if I traveled with someone else and spent a full day with them, that’s the same– I didn’t break down hours or time spent with people. Seeing someone on one day meant one tally. While some people were confused or annoyed at the request for a photo at the end of our meeting, most people found the experiment interesting and were curious to know what their own data would reveal about themselves and what my outcomes would be. So for everyone who asked, here’s what came out of it.
Results — Data
I saw 502 people in 2018.
264 people I only saw once (52%)
78 people— twice (15.5%)
53 people — 3x (10.5%)
30 people — 4x (5.9%)
21 people — 5x(4.2%)
9 people — 6x (1.8%)
9 people — 7x (1.8%)
6 people — 8x (1.2%)
4 people — 9x (.8%)
3 people — 10x (.6%)
1 person — 11x (.2%)
3 people — 12x (.6%)
2 people — 13x (.4%)
1 person — 17x (.2%)
1 person — 20x (.2%)
1 person — 22x (.2%)
1 person — 23x (.2%)
1 person — 26x (.2%)
1 person — 29x (.2%)
1 person — 30x (.2%)
1 person — 34x (.2%)
1 person — 47x (.2%)
1 person — 74x (.2%)
And 1 — 350x. (.2%)
I ran into 72 people I knew.
I had phone calls with 64 people. 18 of which only happened once.
Some interesting outliers in the data
I saw my wife 350 days. 15 days were spent traveling to Greece, Chicago, Mexico, LA, and San Francisco.
I saw my daughter 74/75 days she was alive. I missed one day traveling to Chicago.
I saw my Caveday cofounders 29 and 30 times. That’s 2.5 days every month. (I had hoped this would be in the 50s.)
Even though my parents live in Chicago, I saw my mom and dad 17 and 10 times respectively. (Consider that every visit is only 2, maybe 3 days.)
As for the couple that started this whole conversation, I saw them 10 times this year.
I stopped keeping track of phone calls to my parents at 52 calls.
I had meaningful calls (more than a few minutes) with my brother 40 times.
There are 8 people in LA that I talked to on the phone regularly– an average of 6 times each. The most being 18 times and the least being twice. Whereas my friends in Chicago had an average of less than 1.
I ran into 72 people I knew. That’s more than once a week. And 18 of them I ran into more than once (that’s 25%). Some were in LA. Some were in NYC. Some were in Jersey City.
Results — Analysis
I Am More Grateful
As I scroll through my album of people I saw, I am immediately hit with how lucky I am to have such amazing people in my life. I am the only person in the world who knows this exact collection of people, and seeing all of their photos reminds me of that.
Having photos of every hangout makes each one more meaningful and valuable as well. I’m essentially saying that this collection of people and this collection of events helped to shape who I am this year. It’s easy for me to forget about a coffee I had with a friend 12 months ago, or a run-in that made me feel like I was a local for the first time in my new neighborhood. But having a record of it allows me to reflect and be more grateful for the moments and influences I have curated this year.
Fewer, But Deeper
The distribution is not that surprising. There’s a steep, exponential drop off of people I saw and the number of times I saw them. But what was interesting to me is the change that happens from 5 to 6 hangouts. I saw 21 people 5 times. And 9 people 6 and 7 times. After that, it drops quickly.
Looking over that group of people (21 people I saw 5 times and 18 people I saw 6 and 7 times), most of them are through Caveday events and through the birthing class that my wife and I took. With a few exceptions, these are people who I regularly saw at events because we were doing something else– not because we chose to see each other.
When you get into 8+ times I saw someone, it was with the intent to see each other and get deeper. There are only 30 people I saw more than 8 times– including my wife and daughter and family. (If you take out those, I’m left with a dozen people). These are people that I made a deep effort to talk to regularly and see often enough that I know have a huge impact on my life.
Sure, I saw 502 people this year. But only 12 or so are the ones I really go deep with on a regular basis.
My 30s are Not Like My Teens
That said, 12 still might feel like a lot. And seeing someone 8+ times might feel like a lot. But if you compare that to other times in my life– college, high school, and earlier. If I were to count the number of times I saw my family… or the number of times I chose to hang out with my friends? We’re looking at triple digits. Not just 8 times.
My In-laws are my family
Besides my wife and daughter, I saw my in-laws the next most frequently. I spent 47 and 34 days with My mother in-law and father in-law respectively. 26 days with my niece. 23 with my sister and brother in-law. That adds up to an average of 2, 3 and 4 times per month.
My top 5 are who I would want them to be. (Jeremy, Molly, Margo, Jeff, Mike).
The theory goes that you are an average of the 5 friends you see the most. in 2018, my goals were related to becoming a local in Jersey City, growing Caveday, having a child and exploring being an entrepreneur. So it is validating to me that the 5 people I saw the most (outside of family) were connected to Caveday, to families in Jersey City, and people that run their own companies.
Nothing Beats In-Person
Regardless of the number of phone calls or video calls, face to face time leads more consistently to deeper relationships than… well, FaceTime. Or anything else.
My hypothesis proved true. The people I saw the most often still were only around once a month. I’d love that to be more. I would love to form deeper relationships with people in my life through intentional and regular gatherings.
I also have to recognize that not everyone requires (or wants) 20+ hangouts a year in order to be a big part of my life. And that people I spent a few intimate hours with can have a bigger impact on my life than people I saw 6 or 7 times in more tangential and crowded settings.
I plan on continuing the documentation of my friends in 2019. I’m hoping that the numbers will show even clearer who I would want to spend my life with are the people I actually choose spend my life with.
And I hope that this helps you become more conscious and intentional about the people you will see this year as well.