The lost art of making plans - and sticking to them

Remember when you set a meeting date and time, and actually showed up? For some, it just doesn't seem trendy to stick to plans anymore.

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The Independent Online

One of the benefits of living in the age of mobile phones, emails and social media is the sense of freedom it provides.

This is going to show my age, but I remember the days when you’d organise a time to meet up with someone, agree on a time and place, and then – you won’t believe this bit – actually have to turn up as planned. Old school, I know. There were no last minute changes, no “let’s push it back an hour” or “actually, let’s do this next week”. You’d just do what you agreed to do.

If it sounds thoroughly old fashioned it’s because I’m talking about the nineties, when ‘Setting a Plan and Sticking To It’ wasn’t the title of a self-help book, but rather an entirely necessary, if tedious, requirement for navigating daily life.

It’s not that you couldn’t change plans back then, of course you could. It’s just that the communication options at your disposal were landline phones, the fax and Royal Mail, none of them particularly conducive to last minute changes of mind. In theory you could have called the restaurant/bar/ice-skating rink and asked an employee there to alert your friend to your change of heart, but this is the real world I’m talking about here, not some Hollywood film.

Socialising back then was so very predictable and stringent; thank goodness things changed. At some point in the late 90s emails surpassed the postal service, mobiles usurped landlines and, overnight, any need to give a toss about sticking to mutually agreed plans, or even making plans at all, was superseded.

All of a sudden it was totally acceptable to send a text five minutes before you were supposed to arrive saying “bout 20 mins away”. An email on the morning of a proposed engagement saying “sorry, loads of work’s just come up, let’s do next Friday instead” became par for the course. Establishing a place to meet? Well, that could be done “closer to the time” even if “closer” actually meant after.

It was as if the market for social engagements had been fabulously deregulated. Instead of the old socialist-style system with inefficient ‘5-day plans’, stifling red tape and rigid expectations, we now had a free, market-driven system with floating timetables and elastic expectations. In short, individuals could at last do whatever the hell individuals wanted to do!

This was, of course wonderful. No-one had to make any decisions any more. You never had to choose between options. In fact you didn’t have to commit to anything at all because you could just cancel or postpone on a whim with little more than the gentle press of a thumb. You didn’t have to care about anyone else’s time any more because you could be confident that no-one cared about yours. Everyone was happy.

Well, almost everyone. There were a few poor souls, let’s call them losers, who decided not to change with the times. You know the ones. Those schmucks who foolishly turn up when they said they would. The idiots who thought when you said “12:30 for lunch” you meant “12:30 for lunch”.

They’re the ones sitting at the bar by themselves looking through their phone contacts, marvelling at the number of people they know whose surname start with ‘P’ because they’ve run out of more interesting things to do while they wait.

They’re the ones staying back at work, playing solitaire and organising their emails in alphabetical order while they wait for you to “just finish up a few things” at your own, more important workplace.  

And, if they’ve got kids, they’re the ones who have probably gone and organised someone to look after those kids, which makes them look more than a little bit silly when their mate texts to say he can’t do tonight anymore, “how bout tomorrow night?” When will they ever learn?

It’s sad really. Like the old codgers who still order cappuccinos, these people are caught in the past. There’s a whiff of arrogance too - expecting others to turn up on time just because it suits them.

But what if – and I’m sure they’re not – but what if they’re onto something? What if the fashion for sticking to plans and turning up on time was to have some kind of hip, retro revival, like 1980s pop music and moustaches? Maybe then there will be … oh hang on … something more important has just come up. I’ll have to finish this article later. Tomorrow?