Facebook Broke the RSVP

You see the invites hovering in the upper right hand corner of your screen. There are now sixteen of them, two more since you last logged into your Facebook account. The last time you checked, the invitations were an odd assortment of events, mostly things you would never be interested in attending: make-up and 31 parties, political fundraisers, and a local marathon. They seem to be the online equivalent to mass mailings. You are one of three hundred people invited to the online candle party this Wednesday, one of twenty invited to a neighborhood wine tasting party (that has been cancelled and rescheduled twice), and one of sixty-two thousand invited to the online political fundraising event next week.

After a while, you stop glancing at the upper right hand corner of your screen. The Facebook invitations continue to arrive in droves, sometimes from people you vaguely know. Do you really need to RSVP? Will the host of the online political fundraiser who invited sixty-two thousand people really care if you’re not attending? You should acknowledge the invite to the neighborhood wine tasting party, but this twice canceled and rescheduled event makes you suspect the date is vague, only a possibility. You log off, telling yourself you’ll RSVP later.

It is this reason, this overload of Facebook invites, that you neglect to acknowledge the other invitations in your life. The invitations of days past: paper invitations arriving in your mailbox or in your child’s school bag. You take note of their appearance; perhaps even tack the invitation to the front of your refrigerator. You may glance at it while reaching into the fridge for milk and think, “Oh! I still need to respond!”  But your mind wanders to the milk and its expiration date. Eventually, just like those mass Facebook invites, you stop seeing the paper invitation hanging on your refrigerator.

Meanwhile, the date for Aunt Dottie’s party arrives. Her dining room table is set for the fifteen people she invited, even though only three people called and said they would attend. She feels flustered, not quite sure what to do about the twelve guests who did not RSVP. Aunt Dottie now wonders if she made too much punch, and if the extra place settings will look foolish if no one fills them. Yet, what if someone who didn’t RSVP does show up?

If Facebook broke the RSVP, what is to be done? We could try and stop the source, ending the deluge of shotgun invites that populate the upper right hand corner of our Facebook screen. Or, we could bring back common courtesy. We can respond to the invitation, whether it involves clicking the “decline” button on the screen, or even (God forbid) having an actual conversation with the host who took the time to handwrite a paper invitation.

Because at the end of the day, Aunt Dottie needs to know how many cupcakes to make.