Saturday, April 29, 2006

Staying Afloat

The blogging has been slow lately, I realize, but the past few weeks have been something of a turning point in terms of obligations and personal issues. As some of you may know, work has been perpetually wearing me down, making it difficult, though not impossible, to take on my latest commitments: two Spring kickball teams.

After playing on both a WAKA and DCK team last year, I swore to myself that I wouldn't ever attempt it again, as the enjoyment of playing the games and going out afterward tends to wear down when you do it twice a week. Not even taking into consideration the health effects of two major weekday drinking events each week, it just requires a lot of effort to make myself available after work for the games, and to manage being out late all of those nights and trying to wake up on time the next morning. But here I am doing it again, even captaining my DCK team, so needless to say, I've been busy. In the end, though, we do these things because we enjoy them, and I really value the opportunity to see some of the people that I otherwise wouldn't see much on a regular basis.

My plan is to post more frequently now that I've made it through the first week and have had a chance to gauge my general level of availability. I promise!

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Evite Paradox

In looking at all of the innovations of the past five or so years that have altered the way we socialize, very few have had as profound an effect as the Evite, an ingenious online invitation system that has slowly morphed from a helpful planning tool to an essential element of the social life of the urban twentysomething, particularly in a town as party-hearty as DC. A few years ago, the tech savvy among us sent out Evites to announce major events like birthday parties or housewarming blowouts whose guest lists were simply too long to string into an email. Today, the Evite is an all-purpose planning machine, appropriate for announcing everything from a night of bar-hopping to an afterwork softball game. We've come to rely on Evites to keep everything in order, and without them today, our social lives would feel disorganized and uncertain. But is that necessarily a good thing?

Responding to an Evite brings with it a tremendous opportunity for the calculating social planner. Gone are the days when we have to worry about whether or not our exes will spontaneously show up to a party we're going to; thanks to Evite, we can find it out well in advance if there's any chance that they could ruin our night. Conversely, stalking the objects of our affection has never been easier: invited to two parties in one night, but just noticed that that cute girl from kickball just RSVP'd "maybe" to one of them, and said she'd try to show up after going out to dinner with a friend? Looks like you know exactly which one to go to later in the night, big fella.

When you receive an Evite, you basically have three options:

1) Definitively RSVP right away;

2) Initially ignore the Evite and wait until the reminder goes out, replying along with the second wave of delinquents who, just like yourself, are basing their ultimate decision on how the responses have shaped up until that point;

3) RSVP "maybe" or ignore the Evite entirely, and do whatever you want.

All three options, however, say something about you, and can bring with them pitfalls. The first option lets everyone know just where you stand, that you either care about your friend's event enough to say you're coming right away, or that you're simply too busy and important to be there that night. The early "Yes" people are usually close friends of the host, whom everyone knows will be there anyway, and want to help create buzz for their buddy, and the early "No" people are often insecure attention mongers, who will often specifically outline why they can't be there, just to give everyone an idea of the busyness of their lives and their general unavailability. Replying immediately, though, can be extremely dangerous, locking you into social plans weeks, even months in advance. To not show up to event that you were one of the first to RSVP for is about as big of a faux pas as you can commit in the Evite culture.

The get around this dilemma, the crafty among us will often use option # 2. It's a route usually taken by those who like to keep their social calendars open for the optimal plans, but ultimately want their presence (or lack thereof) to be known. By responding fashionably late, you're always looking cool, but your tardiness in responding can easily make you look like a jerk, especially when a lot of people already knew you had no plans that night and were going to come anyway.

Option # 3 avoids the problems with options 1 and 2 entirely, but in the end just looks cheap. While there are often many cases where you genuinely don't know if you can make it to an event, the people who habitually RSVP "maybe" or don't respond at all are taking the easy way out, either keeping their options open or simply not having a clue as to what they want to do.

The truly zealous Evite planners know all of the options we have, and watch our decisions carefully. Haven't responded yet to your best friend's housewarming party, even though you're actually helping her set up? Don't be surprised to get an earful about doing your part to "bump up the numbers." Exactly how and when you respond can have important ramifications in defining your commitment to the events in your social life and those who organize them, forcing us to put great time and care into the way we approach this task.

The great paradox of Evite is that a service that provides us with so much more social flexibility than before actually ties us down in the end. It can allow us to organize our social lives with a freakish amount of meticulousness, but it has totally removed the innocence of party planning. Knowing the rules and rights of this constantly evolving culture to make the right decision at the right time, then, is the only way to survive.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Freedom of Choice

Choice is a good thing. It allows us to spice things up, keeps prices down, and provides us with a satisfying control over our lives. Some options, like what kind of fruit to buy at the supermarket, are rather basic and simple, while others, such as who runs our government, are much more complex and mired in ramifications.

Needless to say, when my roommate and I recently attempted to purchase a season-long subscription to MLB Extra Innings, which provides every major league baseball game on ten different channels at a time, we assumed this choice was of the former variety. Last year, we born-and-bred Bostonians were able to catch our Red Sox whenever they were on, rather than wait for them to show up on national television, and I could tune into a Brewers-Pirates game anytime one of my fantasy pitchers was getting the start. For a mere $150, we had the baseball world at our fingertips, and it was bliss.

You can imagine our horror, then, this year when we ordered the exact same service and turned to one of the game channels, only to find hockey. Yes, hockey. Lots and lots of hockey. Every game currently playing, to be exact. Confused and a little disoriented by this silly sport showing up on our screen, we quickly called Comcast to let them know they gave us the Center Ice hockey subscription accidentally. Not quite, they told us. It appeared as if, due to current network negotations, Comcast had designated the same set of channels for both hockey and baseball packages. On one night, we might get hockey, and on another night, baseball. And here's the kicker: they wouldn't be able to predict which sport we'd get on any given night.

Aside from the obvious question as to why anyone would want to purchase a hockey game subscription, this Comcast deal makes us wonder why, of all things, must we be deprived of the choice of what sport to watch when we're paying a premium for that very purpose? In the land known for its stifling bureaucracy and red tape, it's not surprising that even an option as basic as this would be difficult to exercise here in DC. The point is, we didn't pay all of that money to watch whatever the capricious whims of our Comcast providers dictated, we paid for the choice of watching baseball under our eyes bleed.

Why can't that be simple?