Sunday, October 19, 2014

Yes, we are still on for the thing tonight, just like we said, god dammit.

Continuing my descent into old fogey-ness, I seem to have encountered another shift in the zeitgeist that marks off my age. The first one was the enormous increase in the number of text messages sent by the average teenager. But this was something that one mostly would only see if one actually has a teenager around the house. Since this doesn't apply to me, I only find out about it in odd magazine articles.

But there is another trend that I have had cause to experience firsthand - the proliferation in confirmatory text messages over every social arrangement.

Up until recently, my general presumption was that things worked as follows:

-You and person X would agree to do activity Y at time Z.
-If one of you couldn't make it, you would inform the other ahead of time.
-Absent that, it is assumed that the arrangements stand and you both turn up at time Z.

You, like me, might presume that this is how things still work, yes?

You, like me, might end up being rather surprised.

These days, a lot of people, particularly young people, seem to have decided collectively that they're switching from an opt-out system of arrangements to an opt-in one. In other words, plans to do things in two days time are merely a suggestion, a vague agreement-in-principle. If you actually intend to follow through, you have to confirm this.

I found this when I'd start getting messages asking if we were still on for what I considered agreed-upon plans. I used to respond with 'of course' or something like that, wondering vaguely why this was now the thing that people did, but dismissing it as evidence of their neediness or insecurity. Confirming to them would seem pointless, but not a big deal.

I remember complaining to a friend, and saying that it was refreshing to find people who didn't need this. I was meeting someone new for coffee that evening, and was glad that we hadn't done the obligatory text message dance, which seemed like a good sign. That is, until she didn't actually turn up. Apparently she had decided that not receiving a confirmation was an indication that things were canceled, so much so that she apparently hadn't bothered to message me to check.

To paraphrase Frank Costanza, as I rained abusive text messages on her, I realized there had to be another way. After my rage subsided, it became pretty clear that my attempts to fight a rearguard action against the culture were as doomed as the 50's protests against rock and roll. So I now suck it up and send confirmatory messages. Sometimes one still isn't enough - I've sent a confirmation the night before, only to get another query confirming things an hour before. Who are these people, and what on earth is wrong with them?

I think the reality is that people have become so flaky that this is actually the more efficient social arrangement. When enough people become sufficiently inconsiderate that they just cancel all the time at the last minute, confirmations are actually time-saving. They're only a net drain when the probability of last minute cancellations is politely low, at which point they're a nuisance. This was what I assumed was the case, but apparently not. The real shift will have arrived when cancelling is so common that it's not even considered that impolite. Once again, I'm pretty sure this is a generational thing.

If narcissism and self-centredness are the psychological traits of our age, then flakiness is merely the natural result. Everyone else's time is less valuable than mine (one reasons), so what difference does it make if I change plans on someone at the last minute? Actually, it's probably worse than that - the median reasoning (such as it is) is probably closer to 'I have something better on, or can't be bothered. Ergo, I won't go'. To that extent, expecting confirmatory text messages at least indicates an ability to escape from pure solipsism and anticipate everyone else's self-centredness too. Which, at the margin, I guess is a good thing, even if the need for such anticipation is ultimately depressing.

Plus I just hate sending zillions of text messages, which annoys me too. Why? Same underlying reason.

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