You Should Know… Jordan Rothenberg

Photo by Dovid Fisher.

Everyone has a BFF. But how do people become friends?

That’s what Jordan Rothenberg is trying to find out. Rothenberg, 29, used to be Adas Israel Congregation’s youth coordinator. In the fall he will begin graduate work at The George Washington University.

What is the graduate program you are entering?

Organizational leadership and learning. I would call this more like persuasion techniques and negotiations. Those soft skills. This program is based around understanding human behavior and it also models theories of leadership. It’s focused on the organizational level, and for me, my desire came on a personal level.

We understand you are working on a project about social interaction.

I had been working as a relationship builder and I wanted to challenge myself. I remember reading something about
anthropology where this guy Robin Dunbar says you can have 150 friends. And he talks about different circles. Maybe five layers. And the closest is five people, the next is 15, next is 50, 250, whatever. But with each layer is a different connectivity to that person. Your top five might be people you’re close to.

That’s how it started. Also I was reading a bunch of books about how disconnected we are because of technology, and at the same time it allows us to bridge the physical divide in a way that’s never been done before. So I really wanted to test the levels of our intimacy. And then there was too much buzz around it and I kind of lost my vision. Right now I’m taking some time to regroup and maybe I’ll do it as a thesis. I want to push it forward still.

Would this project measure your own social interactions or others’ social interactions?

Both. Whenever I’m communicating via phone, texting, emailing, Facebook, I try to quantify it and say how many minutes or how many texts are exchanged. There’s some self-diagnosis in this and it’s not completely objective. It started out from a place of wanting to measure myself better. I was kind of caught between these two worlds of people, wanting it to be a project that was more science-based, because they thought this project couldn’t just be done for kicks and giggles.

What role do coffee dates have in the project?

You could consider a coffee interaction like a microcosm for your relationship with another person if you hit all the bases correctly. I mean, you want to create some rapport with them. You want to make them feel at ease so they can open up to you. And you want to show some vulnerability. And you want to be aware of how much you’re speaking and how much they’re speaking.

What makes a good coffee date?

It depends on the type of interaction. This interaction we’re having here is you seeking information. This is never the way I would run any coffee date. But this is your coffee date. You’re running it. So you are doing everything I would. You’re asking questions, you’re making eye contact, you’re not looking at your phone and that’s cool.

So how do you run your coffee dates?

If I’m having a successful coffee date it’s probably the case that I’ve either stalked them a little bit and am familiar with who they are, or have an understanding of what they see as the purpose of this meeting. And then I try to just live in the moment. Maybe I’ll ask them basic questions, but then I’ll go into uncharted territory and ask some very real questions. I like to get deep with people

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