We’ve all been there. Sipping from a latte at Starbucks or wherever friend dates happen, and suddenly you hear a telltale ping from your phone. You’re disheartened, but admittedly not surprised. It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before, and not just with the friend you were supposed to meet up with today. Lately, it seems like friends cancel on us more often than they show up. If you’re like many people in today’s busy society, you’ve even done it yourself once or twice (okay, make that once or twice per month). Of course, there’s a chance you’re one of the true-blue friends who still prioritizes social plans, and when you can’t make it you give the standard 24 hours of notice. In either case, cancellations are spreading like an epidemic, and they’re spreading like wildfire. If we didn’t know better, we would say the latest trend in making plans is to cancel them. But why?
Does plugging into virtual reality mean unplugging from, well, reality? (In this context, “reality” refers to real time). There’s no single, definitive answer to that question. But it’s some serious food for thought. Have you ever considered the possibility that this question, like many others, goes unanswered because we’re not asking it? A society immersed in global technology should be more connected than ever, right? Technology has expanded our world view, and from our vantage point we can see more of the world than ever. Yet the result of this seems to be less than ideal than it sounds. Let’s let science speak for a moment. The human subconscious mind is capable of processing 11 million pieces per second. The conscious mind, however, is capable of processing about 40 pieces of information per second. Now consider the constant stream of digital information we are flooded with continuously throughout the day.
What does this all add up to? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that our brains our overwhelmed by the amount of information that we’re exposed to each day. As if that weren’t enough reason for brain fatigue, the things in life that many members of our parents’ generation could afford on a single income- a house, a car, adequate health insurance, ect.- are much more expensive for us. In the unlikely event that you don’t have at least a handful of friends who forwent health insurance in favor of, well, paying for their education, you’re probably aware that this is all too common. Maybe it’s even something you experienced yourself. In any case, “making it” in a competitive job market and difficult economy often means devoting oneself entirely to work, leaving little time for relationships- sometimes even the ones we value most. The fact of the matter is that we’re living in a society that prioritizes monetary success and autonomy over human interdependency needs.
The Upside of Virtual Reality
We would never say that technology doesn’t positively enhance life and reduce stress in many ways. We’re all in favor of ambition and the perks of technology in many important areas of life. Facebook keeps us connected with people who might have otherwise faded out of our lives as years passed by. Digital news keeps us aware of what’s happening in the world with the click of a few keys. There are many exciting new global trends that enhance the branding and advertising capabilities of businesses. Journalists can report on news about China from their American living rooms. The field of psychology is beginning to recognize the validity of virtual relationships, suggesting that people can form genuine, meaningful connections online before or without meeting in person. In the right context, social media connects us to friends we’re too busy to catch up with over coffee. Whether in a professional or everyday context, we share curated creative content that has value to us and others who follow or friend us on social media. Writers, musicians, and artists of every kind forge their careers on social media, which acts as its own kind of agency if you’ve got a little bit of talent- and a lot of networking skills.
“Sorry Not Sorry”
In friendships, it matters how you cancel. If you’re like many of us, it’s equal parts frustrating and relieving that you can cancel plans with the click of a button. And texting or communicating on social media comes with its own universal language. For example, adding a line of tearful emojis to a cancellation text often feels phony and staged, leaving the recipient wondering why you didn’t just call if you were that sad to cancel. After all, wouldn’t an actual conversation in which your friend can hear your voice be a more sincere, caring approach? Texting almost seems like an easy way out. A more connected form of communication such as a phone call requires more effort than many of us feel like making. It requires energy and a degree of transparency. If you’re like most people, disappointing a friend isn’t exactly a pleasant experience. If given the choice between hearing their spontaneous reaction or reading a carefully contrived response minutes later, what would you choose? But wait…
If you’ve ever bailed on plans with a friend at the last minute, there’s a good chance you’ve been hit with the dreaded text equivalent of the cold shoulder. Honestly, it can be even worse to be on the cancelling end of a text conversation. The jilted recipient might type something like, “It’s fine” without punctuation, or “No problem” with a period at the end. Really, is there anything more cringeworthy than a text with a period at the end? Sometimes we get invitations to events that we know we won’t have time or energy to attend. But we don’t want to disappoint the friend who invited us in the moment. Sending a quick last minute cancellation punctuated by crying emojis seems like a much safer option. (Can you say “Sorry, not sorry”?)
But this implies more than being worn out by living and working in a competitive society (although that’s certainly one of the big explanations for the chronic cancelling that goes on). It also suggests that technology is giving us a way out of the kind of honesty and effort that sustaining reciprocal friendships requires.
Balancing Work and Friendships
For many of us, the balance of work and social life is precarious. Are we too distracted or interrupted by social media on ongoing texts and emails from work- even when we’re supposedly off work at home? Does the stress on our brains caused by information overload ultimately making us exhausted? How many times have you heard a friend say casually, “God, my work never ends.” Or “Work uses up all my energy, so when I get home all I want to do is crash in bed”. Should adult life really be making us this tired, or are we compromised by information overload and overworked by demanding careers? More and more, it seems like maintaining a successful career comes at the expense of cultivating and maintaining meaningful friendships. Again, in some respects this is understandable; getting an educating and entering the workforce takes a lot of time and effort. And there’s nothing wrong with prioritizing career and monetary stability. But recently, more and more people share the opinion that careers and technology shouldn’t be so consuming that there’s no time to spend on self-care and friends or loved ones.
The cultural climate in our country is fraught with tension, and the dramatic increase in political activism shows that we care about the state of the world we live in. Millennials in particular refuse to turn a blind eye to world issues. We’ve been engaging in a collective conversation about widespread sexual harassment, police brutality, an unbalanced economy, and more. It makes sense that people are anxious. The rising number of events dedicated to political activism brings friends and strangers together for a cause. But on an everyday basis, friendships aren’t what they used to be.
Changing with the Times
Society and the world we live in isn’t changing drastically any time soon. But should we? There are entire online movements led by influencers who advocate for self-care as a priority. People who suffer from chronic physical or mental health problems have a bigger, more interactive support system than ever on Instagram and Facebook. Although these support systems are curated online and filtered through the lens of social media edits, many of them are opting to share authentic “real life” images. Instagram is overflowing with purposefully unedited photos and honest descriptions of their struggles in the name of authenticity. Influencers with massive followings are sharing the parts of their lives that are much less than picture perfect. The movement even has its own hashtags like #authenticity and #radicalselfcare. It begs the question, has self-care really become that “radical” in today’s society? If so, it seems that friendships are also going by the wayside as time goes by.and lifestyles become more demanding.
Besides, the gritty details of our friends’ personal lives are often no more than a click away. If you don’t regularly scroll through your Facebook news feed, you’ve either denounced social media as unworthy of your time, or you live in a cardboard box. Whatever the case, the details people share with hundreds or thousands of people in Facebook status updates never ceases to amaze. I know of someone who consulted Facebook about whether she should get a divorce, and then shared her decision in a status update before she served her husband with papers. The point is, we don’t need to actually spend time with our friends to know what is going on in their lives.
When you really consider all of the factors that go into the epidemic of “chronic cancellation”, a recurring truth emerges: Various studies have shown that keeping plans is not necessarily an indicator of how much value we place on friendships. In other words, it’s often the case that we don’t cancel plans because our friendships don’t mean a lot to us. We do it largely because we’re overwhelmed, overworked, and technology makes it easy to cancel without opening up the very conversation this post is about. When we disappoint friends on the phone or to their face, the honesty of it usually forces us to look at ourselves and our lives. Contemplating whether our lives leave room for satisfying friendships and self-care is not an easy task for most of us. Taking inventory of our life choices and how we feel about them isn’t easy. But if not looking means that we live our lives on automatic pilot and thus become automatons, is it worth it?
It’s not an easy task, but there are ways in which we can preserve the quality of friendships in a busy world. Adopting better time management skills means arranging our schedules to include self-care and time with friends. In a world that doesn’t necessarily prioritize personal relationships, we’ve got to prioritize them ourselves. It becomes a personal responsibility. And making time for friends goes hand in hand with making time for self-care. Think about it this way: If you’re functioning on autopilot through a busy life and are depleted by stress, you won’t have the energy to make plans with friends. You might find yourself frequently canceling and not enjoying the plans you do keep.
Could More Personalized Social Media Enhance Rather Than Hinder Your Friendships?
When it comes to social media, ask yourself how it can be used to connect with friends rather than avoid them. Our upcoming app, which is soon to launch, is a different kind of social media. Facebook algorithms make it so news feeds are cluttered with sponsored ads, spam, and status updates from people you may not have even met. Plans is just what it sounds like- a social media tool that brings people with common interests together. With Plans, your news feed will be populated by events based on the interests shared by you and the friends you add. Unlike Instagram, it’s not about curating an image and winning followers. Plans is all about cultivating quality, face-to-face experiences at events or social gatherings you’ll actually enjoy. These days, there’s a real need for reconnection among friends in real time. Our social media app was designed to bring friends together- and connect us to new friends with whom we have something in common.
Communication is Key
There’s no one magical ingredient known to friends who stay connected despite the passage of time and separate lives. There are many. But one hard lesson we’ve all invariably learned is that communication can make or break a friendship. If you haven’t been doing the best job of it, give yourself a break. Cultivating and maintaining friendships is more complicated than it used to be. It requires us to actively prioritize friendships that we once devoted days and nights to. If you absolutely have to cancel plans with a friend, do it over a call rather than a text. This way, your friend gets to hear your voice and understand the circumstances that led you to cancel. More importantly, friends will know that your cancellation is about you, not them. And be as honest with your close friends. If you’re stressed out, overworked, or you feel too heartbroken over a breakup to join your friends at a party, say so. Your real friends may be disappointed over not seeing you, but they’ll understand. We’ve all been there. Clear communication is the biggest key to bridging the gap between our worlds and our friends’ world. So if you must send a text, make it as long and teary or anxious as you like. If you genuinely forgot your plans and accidentally overbooked, say so and apologize sincerely. When it comes to communication, a little bit often goes a long way among friends.