In her article “sry, gotta bail mayb nxt tme," Caroline Hall argues that “texting and instant messaging make it easier to navigate our social lives, but they are also turning us into ill-mannered flakes.” At first, I didn’t agree with Hall. I was offended, even. I’m not an ill-mannered flake. My friends are not ill-mannered flakes. Then I looked through my phone. These are actual text messages I’ve sent and received in the last month (sorry, friends):
8:23 p.m. Me: You still wanna get a drink?
8:31 p.m. Friend: I gotta chill before rehearsal. I’m wiped, but I’m around tomorrow night or the next day.
8:40 p.m. Me: No problem, next time.
12:42 p.m. Me: I ‘m going to a concert tonight in the city and completely forgot. Sorry to make this so difficult. Tomorrow? Next week? Let me know.
12:57 p.m. Friend: No problem — call you next week.
9:24 a.m. Friend: Yo sorry I bailed last night I was super high and just like, couldn’t be at that bar.
10:45 a.m. Me: Totally understandable, that place was gruesome.
5:55 p.m. Friend: So basically some stuff is happening tomorrow? That’s where we stand?
5:59 p.m. Me: I’ll let you know what the deal is or vice versa once there is a deal.
6:04 p.m. Friend: If there even is a deal.
10:00 a.m. Me: Sorry about last night.
1:03 p.m. Friend: It’s okay, Ricki Flake.
None of these interactions phased or offended me in the least. I ended up seeing all of these people at another different time. I would disagree with Hall: We are actually a generation of quite well-mannered flakes. Look at all those sorrys and it's okays and no problems! We mean them when we “say” them, and then we move on to our next plan.
Going through my texts and email, I noticed many of my sayings were peppered with words like “maybe" and“possibly.” “Maybe wanna meet up tomorrow night?” “You wanna possibly get dinner tomorrow?” These are words I’m used to. They give the receiver and the sender a sense of low stakes. Both parties get an out. Yeah, I’d love to get a drink! But we did say maybe, so also I might change my mind at the last minute and that’s going to be okay too.
It may be hard for older generations to understand this form of communication because it’s so unlike the past. I’m always amazed at the idea that our parents left the house with set plans. I’d be pissed if I sent out a carrier pigeon and got stood up. But being a generation known for our ADHD and our constant need for stimulus, it makes sense that our plans change and shift, that we forget plans, move appointments around, change meeting times, change restaurants, change clothes ten times, run late.
There are unspoken boundaries to flakiness that are fairly well understood. If there is a reservation involved, a wedding, a going-away party, anything you got an invitation in the mail to — you go. If it’s a low stakes situation and you’re tired, not in the mood, or have better plans, you send a text. If you forget to even do that, you kind of suck, but there’s always the go-to “sorry, my phone died!” which is a widely accepted modern-day “the dog ate my homework.” I didn’t flake on you obviously, my phone did. Maybe next time it’ll be a little more considerate.