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The Reply All Protocol


This week, I learned that I can replace Facebook with an email account and the “Reply All” button.

There’s a group of close friends I met in graduate school who are like family to my wife and I. Keeping in touch has gotten harder as we’ve followed our careers thousands of miles apart and had children. Between three families, we span three time zones and have six small children. Even Skype calls are logistically challenging, let alone air travel.

This situation was where Facebook was supposed to be useful, but my feed was dominated by people I already see day-to-day. I gave up and deleted my account in 2016. The slim chance of seeing something from my faraway friends was not worth immersing myself in the cesspool my feed was becoming.

We had one of our Skype calls recently and one of our friends proposed a way out. Forget the mess of social networks. Forget the challenge of scheduling Skype calls across time zones (and around naps). Start an email thread. Commit to one another that, from time to time, we’ll reply to the thread with an update about what’s going on in our lives. There’s no expectation that you wait until you have big news, or obligation to respond when someone does share. The point is just to share, in some fashion, so we can be present in each others' lives (and without unwanted noise).

Relationships are not generally transitive. Even one new person can radically shift the social dynamics of a group. We learn special kinds of trust in close circles and Facebook has never understood that.

There doesn’t have to be any expectation that your news is big or any obligation to respond. Just share. Being present, in writing, in some small way is so much better than radio silence because you are stymied by wanting to do more.

Anyway, we have an email thread going now. I tagged it in Gmail as “The Best Social Network” and I’ve started thinking of it as “the Reply All protocol”. Email used to be more fun. It can be again.