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.