How to get news from old people for whom nothing ever changes

I recently completed a five-year term as Secretary of the MIT Class of 1982.

Our new Secretary emailed to ask for “tips on extracting information from classmates” and “Did you ever target specific individuals?” Here was my response:

Thanks for stepping up.

A good salesperson doesn’t hear the first three times the prospect says “No.” So I think you may want to send out at least 2-3 emails between issues.

Also, people are much better at reacting than generating content. If you ask someone “What’s new?” the invariable answer is “Not much.” If you tell them about going to see Wonder Woman, though, they start talking about the last time that they went to the movies, what they saw, etc. Or maybe they saw Wonder Woman and had some reactions. You saw that every now that I then I had to bring out the big hammer and mention Trump 🙂 [though I myself am pretty much indifferent to federal politics]

I thought that it helped to have themes for various issues. That way people can pipe up with “Kid X graduated College Y” but others can share life wisdom. Since we’ve reached the age where not too much changes, instead of searching for conventional news of changes think of yourself as a sociologist with a group that you’re following. Can you figure out if it is better to live in the U.S. or a different country. Is it better to live in the country or city? Are people happier if they have kids or don’t have kids? Is it better to be married and divorce than never to have been married at all? What happens when someone tries to get a new job at age 60? What is it like to go back to school at age 60?

I didn’t try the individual email approach, but the group of people who actually care is small enough (e.g., the ones who showed up at the reunion) that yours is probably a good idea. People can’t not respond on the theory that someone else will.

[How have times changed since 1982, other than the Wisconsin glaciation having receded from the MIT campus? Tuition was around $5,000 per year when our class started. The acceptance rate for people who applied to join the Class of 1982 was roughly 50 percent. Freshmen entering this fall will pay $50,000 per year in tuition. They had less than an 8 percent chance of being accepted.]



  1. jack crossfire

    September 12, 2017 @ 3:18 pm


    Pretty good evidence for how you can’t make a living by teaching yourself to program anymore, but could have in 1982. If the culture was that open, MIT would be a lot cheaper & accept a lot more students. Boot camps & youtube videos get you into the poverty of an hourly mobile app developer. A job at Facebook which actually covers the cost of rent is now ivy league territory only.

  2. J. Peterson

    September 12, 2017 @ 4:50 pm


    The acceptance rate for people who applied to join the Class of 1982 was roughly 50 percent.

    Citation? I was applying to colleges around that time, and MIT was considered far more selective than that even back then.

  3. JW

    September 12, 2017 @ 4:53 pm


    Facebook has 20 thousand employees, not all of them went to private schools.
    Still, it’s a hard job and something like PA or nurse practitioner pays just as much with half the stress.

  4. Peter Donis

    September 13, 2017 @ 9:15 pm


    The acceptance rate for people who applied to join the Class of 1982 was roughly 50 percent.

    I think this might have been largely due to a small number of applicants. I was 5 years behind you (undergraduate class of 1987), and IIRC the rate was down to somewhere in the teens for my incoming class. As I remember it, MIT wanted to maintain a basically constant class size, so as more and more people applied, the admission rate decreased accordingly.

  5. Bruce McHenry

    September 17, 2017 @ 11:23 pm


    Have my now nearly 60 year old classmates really reached “the age where nothing changes?” Wow. For me, everything is changing more and more. Now traveling constantly and starting to put into effect a plan for my next 40 years that took 40 years to develop.

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