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Dear Mr. Smith: What's with how people reply to invitations these days? Recently, I have noticed that either they don't reply or they say something like "I'm going to pass." Growing up, I was taught that when someone asks you to attend a party, you always thank the person before accepting or declining the invitation. Is the casual stance I've observed a result of so many invitations going out on Facebook? Once I sent out five invitations to an event through Facebook: In one case, I was unfriended and in the others I was ignored. Is it because people think they are doing you a favour by answering your e-mail?

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I do indeed think that is exactly it. And it's due to e-mail fatigue. We are all swamped with event invitations and it's hard to tell the difference between a business thingie and an old-friend thingie. I get several dozen invitations a day to utterly uninteresting product launches or openings; I have to go through them so quickly I barely look at them. In this mad rush to purge - not just one's inbox, but one's own sense of pressure, of unmet obligation - one can easily miss pleasant opportunities. I am sure I have been rude myself in just this way. But here's the thing about e-mail: 90 per cent of what we receive via e-mail is work-related and so represents some kind of task. Each message to be answered - or, worse, acted on in some even more time-consuming way, like those e-mails that say, "Can you be at home all day tomorrow in case the workmen show up?" - represents a unit of work and an increment of stress. So when social e-mail is mixed in with them, it's natural that we begin to see them the same way. They all just become yet more decisions to make.

I don't recall feeling, however, this sense of anxiety and overwhelming obligation when unfolding a printed paper card inside an envelope with my address on it. For some reason, that act is still so pleasurable, perhaps because it's so rare. Nor do I feel anxious on hearing a friend's voice on voice mail saying, "Hullo, it's Tuppy here, just thinking I haven't seen you in so long and would love for you to come and help me and my new wife Vazoomba drink this vintage bottle of Perrier-Jouët." I'd call him right back.

As for Facebook, I recall the brief and miserable time when I was using it - a time when I felt as if I was living my life in a glass box in the middle of a mall - and all I remember is event invitations, an avalanche of them, daily, all to things that were designed to encourage me to buy something or otherwise support someone's career. They felt so impersonal that I never replied. Hope I wasn't rude. Perhaps I did, in my bafflement, ignore a couple of genuinely social ones. I tried to answer at least every personal message. In your case, the person who unfriended you wasn't, I guess, really a friend after all. The others were rude. But they may have given greater attention to an e-mail from you to their personal e-mail account rather than through this circuitous semi-public communication system.For the record, you are absolutely right: When declining an invitation, thank first, then say you are sorry you won't be able to go. There is no need to come up with an excuse or alibi.

Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy, was recently released.

 

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