At 10:52 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, Andy Cohen was preparing to host his weeknight talk show on Bravo, "Watch What Happens Live," when a text message arrived.
Though the 20-seat studio has a monthlong waiting list, he had set aside two tickets for a friend. But now the friend was canceling just minutes before going live.
"It didn't happen," the friend wrote. "Dinner going long."
At 9 a.m. on a recent Monday, Paul Wilmot, a public relations executive in New York, was meeting a colleague at a cafe. After he waited for a half-hour, an email arrived from his breakfast date, saying he was on his way.
Not long before that, Leandra Medine, the 23-year-old fashion blogger behind Man Repeller, sat down at a restaurant and waited for her three friends. As she nursed a glass of wine, she glanced down at her phone to learn, via text, that all of her friends had bailed.
Random missed connections? Not quite.
At the last minute
Texting and instant messaging make it easier to navigate our social lives, but they also are turning us into ill-mannered flakes. Not long ago, the only way to break a social engagement, outside of blowing off someone completely, was to do it in person or on the phone. An effusive apology was expected, or at least the appearance of contrition.
But now, when our fingers tap our way out of social obligations, the barriers to canceling have been lowered. Not feeling
And don't worry about giving advance notice. The later, the better. After all, bailing on dinner via text message doesn't feel as disrespectful as standing up someone -- or as embarrassing.
Those with social-driven ambitions and hyper schedules seem to be especially prone to this. And it is practically endemic among those in their 20s and younger, who were raised in the age of instant chatter.
"Texting is lazy, and it encourages and promotes flakiness," Cohen said. "You're not treating anything with any weight, and it turns us all into 14-year-olds. We're all 14-year-olds in suits and high heels."
Not that he is above it, either.
"I'm a victim of it, and I do it, too," he said.
Digital flakiness seems to apply equally to last-minute plans and engagements booked way in advance. Ashley Wick, the founder of Wick Communications, a firm based in New York, organized an intimate dinner this fall to introduce a designer she represents to about 10 editors. Invitations were sent out two weeks earlier, but that afternoon almost half of the confirmed attendees canceled via email.
"Offline rules of etiquette no longer seem to apply," Wick said. "People hide behind email or text messages to cancel appointments, or do things that feel uncomfortable to do in person."
The face-to-face consequences of being a flake have all but disappeared. If the unpleasantness of having to disappoint a host or dinner date was one reason commitments were honored in the past, technology has rendered that moot.
"People don't feel bad shooting someone a text to cancel, but no one would ever pick up the phone and say, 'Let's have dinner next week because I want to go to this party instead,' " said Danielle Snyder, 27, a founder of the jewelry line Dannijo. "But when you say it out loud, you realize how bad it sounds."
Adding to the guilt-free canceling is the assumption that we're glued to our smartphones, which means that people often wait to the last moment to send regrets.
"They'll automatically think I've seen it because they sent it," said Jason Binn, the founder of DuJour magazine. "People cancel meetings or change plans by shooting me a text, an email, even a tweet."
Sociologists have coined a term for these freewheeling, mobile-lubricated social interactions: micro-coordination. The term was created by Richard Ling, a professor of communication at the IT University of Copenhagen.
Before cellphones, he said, people made plans based on prearranged times and places, whereas now we can micro-coordinate, or adjust plans according to real-time events, be it a traffic jam or a late night at the office.
"The mobile phone has made that kind of coordination much more nuanced," Ling said. "We might have three or four different things going on at once, and one thing might fall apart, or another thing might come through, so there's a basic indeterminacy we live with now."
Micro-coordination is perhaps most evident among teens and 20-somethings, a generation that grew up using instant messaging and texting for everything, from homework to hooking up.
Rachel Libeskind, a 23-year-old artist, is constantly navigating her social circles from her iPhone. She finds that she will triple- or even quadruple-book plans on weekend nights, knowing there's only a 60 percent chance she will engage in any of them.
"People will text me, 'Let's do something this week,' and I'll have three or four plans laid out for the week, and on average, more than half of them fall through," she said. "The social plans I make are always changing, always shifting."
'Not that rude'
Moreover, it's not considered boorish when her peers abandon one another.
"Because there is very little at stake in terms of having these plans, it's not that rude," she said. "It's implicit because that's how everyone is operating."
While it may offend etiquette experts, micro-coordination does offer certain benefits.
Caught on Instagram
"Most people celebrate the ability to change plans or fluidly manage plans," said Scott Campbell, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, who specializes in mobile technology. "We don't have to pick a place, or even a time. We can just make it happen in real time. Lots of folks get excited by that."
For writer Derek Blasberg, there is one glaring downside to being a tech-enabled flake:
"If you text a friend that you can't make dinner because you're feeling sick, and then a picture of you dancing on a bar shows up on someone's Instagram feed, you just got caught," Blasberg said. "With the rise of social media and technology, it's harder to use little white lies to get out of things."