?Let us not attribute to malice and cruelty what may be referred to less criminal motives.? ? Jane West
Look, I acknowledge this is not a very popular opinion. And I?m happy to admit that I occasionally feel anxious, or even insulted, when somebody doesn?t text me back right away. I get it.
Before I get into this, these are the actions I?m not defending:
- When someone reads your text message, and is too lazy to respond
- When someone reads your text message, puts it off, and then never respond because ?they forgot?
- When someone is playing ?the game? and so deliberately wait to text you back and seem mysterious, or can?t think of a witty reply
Here?s why I don?t text everyone back immediately, and why you shouldn?t text everyone back right away (except for me obviously):
This can?t be emphasized enough. Some of us spend hours a day commuting in a car, so I get that it?s boring and it?s rush hour. But text messaging while driving is inexplicably stupid. It increases your crash risk 23x. Even if you?re happy to take that risk, think of the car or person you might crash into.
If you have that crucial a text message to get out, pull over and send it. Then again, if a message is that urgent and important, maybe you should have the discussion on the phone (or, you know, in person?).
You know how we never have enough time to get all our work done? Yeah, that?s because of all the interruptions in our workday. (It?s also partially because we love getting distracted. Jonah Perretti built Buzzfeed on what he calls the, ?Bored at work,? network.)
Text messages are a high value interruption, especially if we respond to each other right away. This is ridiculous. If I were to drop everything to respond to each text message I receive, I?d never get any work, or thinking, done. It?s the same reason I choose not to check Facebook until 6PM (unless it?s to proactively send a message to someone myself ? but I don?t expect them to respond promptly, because I actually log out immediately after. Yeah, I?m a selfish user).
So I put my phone face down somewhere on silent, and get to work.
When I?m writing or researching, shifting my brain?s attention to even something as trivial as a text message will veer me entirely off course. I block out hours so that I can get writing done in minimal amounts of time. (Paul Graham calls this the Maker?s schedule.) So yes, even simple matters like, ?Hey, did you hear about what happened with Business Insider?? makes me curious enough to check the news, read, learn more, and then respond to you. By that time, 15 minutes have passed and I get back to work. Except I never pick up where I left off. You don?t either.
When we get back to tasks at hand, our brains have to take some time to get back to where we left off (think of it as the human version of context switching). On average it takes over 20 minutes to get back to a task after an interruption.
Similarly, every day, every person only gets a few peak hours. If you use them wisely, you can do the work of three people. Don?t waste them texting people and distracting each other.
3. The Rest of Life
I know this is hard to believe, but sometimes I do stuff without you.
Sometimes I even have fun. And likewise, you should have fun without me too!
For example, if I?m having a conversation with you, you know how irritating it is when I check my phone as I?m talking to you. (Or worse yet, when you?re talking to me?)
So I might occasionally have a good conversation with someone else too. That doesn?t mean I don?t like you or don?t think your text message is important, it?s just that this person deserves my full attention right now.
Or, maybe it?s the late afternoon and I?m overwhelmed by the other interruptions and notifications, so I?ve disconnected myself and I?m going for a walk.
It?s ridiculous how attached to our phones we are. So let?s set a few things straight about text messages while we?re on the topic:
The Technology of Text Messages
For starters, text messages by default are more like email than they are like the phone call. They are asynchronous technology (although if all three were on a spectrum, they?d be somewhere in between the two).
However, companies created mechanisms to make texting as synchronous as possible (for valid reasons). For example, the infamous ellipses on iPhone (or ?So and so is typing?), which is also present in other messaging apps. Let?s also not forget read receipts.
Yet it was one thing when these mechanisms affected us when we were logged in and on our desktop messenger client (e.g., MSN), and another when they?re with us everywhere. Our values and our culture have not caught up with the technology yet.
Although instant messaging software like AIM, ICQ, or MSN had these types of mechanisms as well, they also had the ability to change statuses. You didn?t have to be on, all the time. You could get away from them.
The technology influences how we think, but let?s accept it and not let it drive us crazy.
We also don?t have priority text messages like we do priority inbox. Imagine if a sender could tier the urgency or importance of a text, or if a receiver could filter it out. (Probably less strained relationships with the former.)
Life is passing us by. Every moment I spend upset that someone hasn?t replied to my text message is a wasted one. It won?t make them respond more quickly. So I?ve set my new default to not expecting a response immediately. Likewise, I don?t obligate myself to read or respond immediately. It?s just more bearable.
Your phone buzzes. You?re curious. Who is that? Who might it be? You ignore it and get back to work.
Or, you glance at the phone, leave it unread, and get back to whatever real life experience you were in. That?s awesome! You don?t have to respond right away. And I?ll get by (somehow!).
However, I will be pissed if you don?t respond period. (If I tap the message (even accidentally), I?ll respond. But if I don?t, it stays unread, and the notifications stay on the screen to remind me to respond.)
Consider what the other person might be up to when you?re sending a message. Don?t forget, you?re demanding their attention.
Does the other person usually respond by end of day? If yes, good! Then they don?t hate you.
Does this person always take more than a few days to respond? Is it a pattern? If it is, then how important are they to you ? and how important do you think you are to them? Do you think they?re doing it in purpose, or are they just clueless when it comes to text messages? Does it not match their lifestyle? Does their unique style of text messaging require a face-to-face conversation ? or is there just a better way to have conversations with them?
If the other person usually replies consistently (and relatively promptly, e.g., within the hour), then please give them the benefit of the doubt.
And, better yet, get back to your own life! Enjoy it to the fullest. You only get once. And it?s too short to worry about people being mad that you don?t reply to their text right away.
Want to Take Your Brain to the Next Level?
I recommend books and and share quotes from experts in creative work and psychology. You?ll also instantly receive my best articles on creativity (read by 300,000 others): http://herbertlui.net/best-of-books/