Popular Culture  •  February 5, 2018

Social Optimizer

noun: a person who waits until the last minute to cancel social plans in order to choose the best possible plan for oneself at the expense of others.


My friend is the worst social optimizer; he canceled our dinner plan after I did all the shopping and cooking, and now I see him partying on Instagram.

Derivative Usage

I have an extra ticket for this show. Do you wanna go? I’ve been optimized by Kathryn. Her boyfriend just invited her to his place.
What?! You are not coming to my party? Are you trying to optimize me?


This problem has become prevalent because most of us have gotten used to using asynchronous modes of communication like email, texting, and Facebook. We don’t respond to requests for attention as they come, like we used to when the phone rang. We wait until we are ready to respond and when we do, we process them all at once. Asynchronous communication tools allow us to optimize our lives.

But not all of us work this way. Those who are guilty tend to have jobs that require singular focus, like writers, video editors, computer programmers, and graphic designers. Because losing focus and regaining it is very costly for these professionals, they tend to love asynchronous modes of communication. They do not want to fix anything in their schedule because they do not know when they will be done with their tasks. They move onto the next task whenever they complete the first task, not after a fixed duration. This is partly because their value lies in their products, not in their time. Spending 40 hours writing an article as opposed to 10 does not guarantee that it would be better.

But those whose job is managing people do not operate this way. Their value lies in their time. If you expect to be pulled from all directions at all times, and if you do not have a task that requires singular focus (or “the flow”) until it’s done, then it’s relatively easy to organize your time on the as-requested basis. People like doctors, therapists, teachers, project managers, and CEOs are used to making appointments and ending their meetings as scheduled (not when the goal is complete).

Although both types appear to be optimizing their time, the former camp is actually optimizing their products or the results whereas the latter camp is optimizing their time. So, we could call the first type “result optimizers” and the latter “time optimizer.” I think we can see then why the first camp is more likely to be social optimizers. They are trying to maximize the fun. The latter camp is used to not achieving the best possible result within the time allotted, so they don’t think much about the result when booking an appointment, and are more accepting of the outcome whatever it may be.