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Heavy Meddle: Oh Callow Youth! Why Are All My Pals Such Flakes?

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Dear Steve,

I get exasperated with the epidemic of flakiness among people around my age (20s to 30s). I realize folks are busy but failure to answer emails, RSVP to invites, or show up for plans gets me down. Aside from being bossy/desperate, how can I build a culture of responsiveness in my circle?

PHOTO

Signed,
WTF’ed

Dear WTF,

Let me say, first, that this letter is not a plant written by a bitter, aging advice columnist all too ready to rail against “kids these days.” It was written (so far as I know) by an actual “kid” with actual grievances against those of his or her proximate generation. And by “kid” I mean someone who has yet to experience the joys of a colonoscopy.

Now then.

As a freelance writer, I spend most of my workday — best guess: 63 percent — trying to figure out why one or another of my many bosses has not yet responded to my various entreaties. So I am familiar with the general dynamic. And you are, of course, right on the money in guessing that being "bossy/desperate" is not going to be much help here.

Hands up, folks: How many of you have used the good old “your message must have gotten caught in my spam filter” excuse?

My own totally unprofessional opinion is that our various technologies have given us a greater range of possible social options, and decreased our general sense of social responsibility, and have thus mostly served to increase the general level of indecision and flakiness.

So part of what you’re experiencing is what I call The Convenience Paradox. It’s super easy for folks to issue invites to their entire social circle, a flick of the thumb. And it’s just that easy for folks to blow off these invites. Hands up, folks: How many of you have used the good old “your message must have gotten caught in my spam filter” excuse?

One way you might fight against this cultural tide is to simply put in a little more effort on the invite side. As in: Pick up the phone. Or a pen, paper and envelope. Or, at the very least, send an individualized email. People don’t want to feel like they’re being marketed to, and that’s the general effect when you issue electronic invites to multiple parties. (And don’t even get me started on Facebook. While it may be fun to browse people’s publicly displayed “lives,” it’s not the same as being emotionally involved with them. It’s more like being emotionally involved with your own reaction to them.)

To boil it down: Be the sort of change you want to see in the world. Stop using the tools of social convenience. Turn off your devices. Unplug from the grid, even when it’s inconvenient. Don’t do this in an angry, or righteous way. Do it because you genuinely want to live a more intimate, responsive life.

The key thing is not to launch a personal crusade, but to make changes in your own lifestyle that will yield a greater sense of attention and authenticity.

Will you lose some folks along the way? Yeah. Probably. Will you suffer some disappointment, and a heightened sense of isolation? Yup, at least at first. But the people who really matter to you, and to whom you really matter, will embrace the chance to engage in a more sustained way.

The key thing is not to launch a personal crusade, but to make changes in your own lifestyle that will yield a greater sense of attention and authenticity. That’s not the easy path these days, but it’s the right one.

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

This program aired on September 9, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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