The Power of Not Being There

My husband and I received a wedding invitation in the mail this week; a gorgeous letterpressed invite wrapped in intricate gold paper complete with a proper RSVP pre-stamped to mail back to the hosts. These traditional invitations are reminders of an era when parties and events were carefully constructed and planned. This particular wedding, an evening affair in Manhattan, invoked thoughts of historically fabulous society parties — the kind where eventphotos ended up in the social pages of Times.

Now in an era where Facebook Events and Eventbrite invitations infiltrate our inboxes, calendars, and social media feeds, even the most “exclusive” event is on parade for the world to see, often before it occurs. The Internet allows those attending the party share their excitement and experiences before, during, and after the event. Partygoers have been doing plenty of that for years — the first time my photo appeared on New York Social Diary for some random event in 2005, I was thrilled. Recently, though, there’s been a trend in the opposite direction: instead of tweeting, posting, and sharing experiences from the party or event, we’re tweeting, posting, and sharing excitement and relief about not attending.

Last night in San Francisco you were either at the Bay Lights lighting (#baylights!) or you weren’t, perhaps remarking how everyone in San Francisco was blowing up your social feeds with photos of the Bay Lights. (I wasn’t there, either. I was at Nopa, drinking pinot noir rose with my husband and best friend.)

Or, the most obvious example: this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, previously a mass exodus of so many of my San Francisco peers (I’ve never been.) Instead of #humblebrag tweets touting full schedules, bemoaning the weather, travel, or sleeping arrangements, or lauding whatever gimmick Newly-Launched-Tech-Startup has successfully executed — online social chatter centers around skipping this year’s festivities because of the size, scope,general commercialism... or, successfully managing a two-night-only trip to Austin — an exercise in elite scheduling prowess and a testament to the value your own time.

I’ll never hate on the #humblebrag, sharing experiences, getting excited about your current activities. It’s a form of pride and a side-effect of our hyper-social and well-documented lives. (Also, I can’t for the sheer fact I’m guilty of plenty of this in my own posts: wine! sunsets! skiing! puppies!) But interesting that now, critical mass is often not at the party, the event, the launch, the show. Maybe this shift is a sign of age, fatigue, shifting priorities, or just the increasing rate at which we post and share social commentary. Or maybe, as we all start to get over our Fear Of Missing Out and watch online sentiment trend toward Relief I’m Not There as we spend time doing things we truly enjoy — that’s the power of not being there.

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