06/10/2014 07:11 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Whatever Happened To RSVPs? Evites And Social Media Have Backfired To Make Us More Impolite

A little boy is turning five this June and wants a big, fun birthday party. So his mother sends out Evites to his entire preschool class plus a few friends. Guess how many folks had opened the Evite after a week? I am talking opened, not replied. Shockingly, only three even bothered to look and only one of those bothered to reply.


Let's see how much time it would take to do both. To open an Evite takes me 10 seconds. Add five more to reply. That's 15 seconds, and you don't even have to be sure you can come. You are allowed to choose "maybe." Come on, parents. We are talking about a child's fifth birthday and you can't spare 15 seconds?

I can't say this surprises me. I have had similar results from Evites I have sent for other events. But here's the sad part. People my age respond right away. It's the social media generation that ignores these invitations. Perhaps email is now outmoded? Should invitations be sent via text now?

I suggested the mother try the old fashioned approach that worked for me back in the day when my son had a June birthday. Send out regular invitations. So (because she was inviting his entire preschool class) she passed them out at school. The kids were quite excited to receive these invitations. The boy is well liked there and has lots of friends. But still, no RSVPs. It took another email stressing the need to RSVP or the party might have to be cancelled to elicit enough responses to make the party a go.

So I am forced to abandon my theory about ignored emails piling up or Evites ending up in junk mail and come to a sadder conclusion: social media has somehow made us feel less connected, less concerned about other's feelings, and less likely to communicate.

If that feels counter-intuitive, it is. But on another level, maybe not. We share so many things with so many "friends" on vehicles like Facebook. But we also feel free to make rude comments on blogs of people we have never met. Can we really care about the feelings of people we never actually talk to in the flesh? Has the ease of electronic communication diminished our capacity have actual face-to-face conversations? Are we losing our ability to empathize with others?

I had wrongly assumed that the ease of sending a quick email would improve communication. After all, in the era in which I grew up, people were expected to send hand-written responses and thank you notes. That took time and effort.

My kids were taught to RSVP ASAP by using the enclosed response card for more formal events or by phoning. There were rules attached to invitations. If you were free to attend, you should say "yes." And once you said "yes," you could not accept another invitation for the same time, even if it was more desirable. People's feelings mattered.

So what are the rules today? You don't have to hand-write anything. You don't have to make a phone call that can be awkward for some people. It seems you don't have to reply at all, even if it will only take you 15 seconds. I guess some folks are just too busy to care about the feelings of a little boy who wants to celebrate his fifth birthday.

Perhaps I am missing something here. Readers, please enlighten me.

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