I’ve been thinking a lot about how cell phones and what not change our culture of making plans and keeping them. Why? Well there is the kind of obvious but kind of vague argument that we can always be in contact with people and so our options of things to do at any given point go way up. Consequently, we are less willing to commit to any one thing.

The  idea is like this. In the past, we had limited communication abilities, so if someone said “my house at 8?” you said “I’ll be there,” because that was your chance. If you said “Ill think about it,” then the person might change their plans or you might not be able to get back in touch with them at the activity (say they picked a bar and there is no phone for customers). With cell phones though, you can say “I’ll think about” and just call the person near 8 to see what’s going on. Consequently, there’s no need to strongly commit ahead of time.

Now though there is almost no social sanction for vaguely committing, or committing then canceling, or being a fair weather committer by waiting to find out for sure that other fun people were going to be at the event. Collective action problems abounded.

Things are a little more complicated though and so is the explanation I think. In short, I think that not only has communication power increased, but that the preparatory cost of going to do something has gone down drastically as well (at least among those people with normal cell phones and iphones, i.e. the relatively well off).

So when call all our friends and hold off doing something to the last minute, I think that there is an implicit belief that there is not much cost to getting ready to do something, so that changing plans on someone 5 minutes before meeting somewhere doesn’t alter things the cost of going to a new place is very low.


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