Our society has been hit with a behavioral scourge. The modern-day plague is called "Last Minute Itis." To find out if you suffer from the disease, consult the following list of most common symptoms:
- Frequently texting friends at the last minute to cancel plans, often once the friend has already reached the scheduled location.
- Frequently canceling plans with friends simply because you don't feel like going or something else you would rather do came up.
- Frequently texting that you are "running late."
- Forgetting to show up for scheduled meetings because you didn't "put it in your phone."
- Consistently leaving plans "loose" or unconfirmed until "firmed up" (via text) at the last minute.
When I make a date to meet with someone these days, in person, there is about a 50/50 chance that the meeting will happen, with most cancellations occurring within an hour of the appointed meeting time. When I make a date with someone, even after it's confirmed, I no longer fully believe that the date will take place. Until I see my companion appear in the flesh (not on FaceTime) I expect my phone to light up with either a "Can't make it" or at the least, a "Be there in 10" text.
It used to be that when we made a date with someone we kept it, unless something came up that made it impossible. When we made a plan with someone, we committed to a time and place in one exchange and didn't need another dozen communications to firm it up. Furthermore, we got to the location at the arranged time -- on time. Even if we did not want to go, we went because it would be rude and disrespectful to cancel at the last minute. It used to be that making the choice to carve out a slice of time to spend with another person held a kind of sacredness that we did not violate. Or perhaps we just felt it was important to honor a certain basic level of manners in our relationships.
These days, we have thrown out basic manners. We cancel five minutes before we are supposed to be there because we don't feel like going, or because something better came up. We know that we can get a message to the other person, so they won't have to sit there waiting on us, wondering what happened, and because of this we don't feel like we really have to show up. Interestingly however, we don't call to say that we are bailing at the last minute (to really reach the person and apologize), but we make sure that they will know not to wait, and this somehow justifies our behavior.
I often wonder, how is it that we used to be able to get to where we were going on time and we no longer can? I don't think it is that much harder to get places on time these days; in fact it might even be easier. And yet, no one seems to arrive on time anymore. We used to view being late as a form of wasting or at least not valuing someone else's time, which was inherently not okay. Now, because we can alert people that we are wasting their time, it has become acceptable to do so -- to show up when it works for us but not necessarily when we said we would. So too, we used to be willing and able to drop whatever else we were doing in order to honor an agreed upon time. Now, we behave like addicts who can't put down the drug of distraction, our device, and turn our focus to getting out the door.
Technology has made bad behavior acceptable, and turned us into a society of disrespectful cads. It has created an environment where we treat other people, their time, and the time we spend with them as unimportant. Technology is training us to act on our whims and do what's easiest -- not necessarily what's right. Our device gives us license to take the easy road and convinces us that we do not need to be disciplined or stick to our word. Technology has created the ultimate casual culture, which treats everything and everyone as casually disposable.
When the times comes to get together with another person, no matter who that person is, there is a part of me that does not feel like going, because it is easier to stay home, I'm tired, or simply because it takes less effort to not relate than to relate. But more often than not, after meeting whomever it is, I am glad I went. Sometimes I am glad because something unexpected and interesting happened, or because I remembered that I really do like spending time with that person, or because just being out and in the world feels connected, or because I pushed myself through my resistance and didn't succumb to what felt easiest. But I always feel good in some way -- because I did not trust the mind (my own), which told me that it would be acceptable to cancel. We mature and grow when we exercise the discipline and discernment that it takes to push through our own resistance, and move beyond our momentary desires. Technology is leading us away from such maturity and growth.
Furthermore, technology is causing us to lose sight of the sacredness of our relationships. I felt crappy after a recent cancellation, when a friend texted me ten minutes before we were to meet (after I had re-arranged my schedule) and said that she was cancelling because she had not slept well the night before but wanted a rain check... followed by a big XO and a frowning emoticon. This kind of behavior makes us feel like we don't matter, not just our time, but our company. Technology is causing us to place value in our devices but not our human companions.
Technological bad behavior is emblematic of our increasing inability to make a commitment of any kind. The fact that it is acceptable to bail in the final hour means that we no longer have to commit to anyone or anything. We leave our lives forever loose, with the option always present that if something better comes up or we change our mind, we're out. We live in a constant state of "we'll see." Unfortunately, in order to feel grounded, we need some things to be set in, if not stone, then at least something solid. If you want proof of this, answer a child's question with "We'll see" and watch as they become immediately agitated. We adults also need to write some of our dates in pen not pencil. When we commit to something, we are agreeing to give up one (or more than one) thing in order to get something else that we want. The ability to make choices is one of the most important skills in life. With the cell phone now making it acceptable to avoid having to make any firm choices, we are losing this critical life skill. The result of this lost ability is a growing population of young people who are perpetually "on the fence" between choices, inert, and paralyzed by the looseness and open-ended-ness that technology creates and supports.
Treatment for "Last-Minute-It is"
The next time you make a plan with someone, see what it feels like to commit to the plan inside yourself, to the person, place and precise time. Shut the back door that the cell phone opens. You may find that just by removing the possibility of a last minute text-out, by closing your options rather than keeping them open, you feel more spacious and relaxed. You may find that closing the gates to other options for other times allows you to be more present and attentive to where you are. You may find that you feel more connected or warmly toward the person that you are meeting, just by having made the commitment to see them, and honoring your choice to spend time with them. You may find that you enjoy the anticipation of looking forward to something in the future that you have decided is going to happen. You may find that you feel more dignified as a result of committing to do something for sure and giving someone your word. There are infinite and profound benefits to making a commitment to do something and doing it.
The cell phone is causing people to become more insensitive, immature and self-involved. It is teaching us that it is okay to behave in a way that is disrespectful, undignified, and ultimately unkind. Leaving ourselves endlessly available, paradoxically, results in our being entirely unavailable -- to others, and to life. Finally, such bad behavior is costing us some of the most important skills that we need to live well, and along with it, the chance to experience some of life's greatest joys.