This reflection started off with a close buddy of mine asking: “How in the world do you deal with life? I mean, like with that many messages from so many different chats!?” Maybe it’s because a million thoughts go through my head a day, or that I’m probably just an asshole. Either way, I almost always forget to text people back, and sometimes I really just don’t give a damn to do so (which makes me want to put my money on me being the latter).
Anyway, on average there’s Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Telegram and WhatsApp, all of which are just the bigger few apps, that would have red notification badges on them – signalling the impending communication and socialization required, that I normally try not to engage in just after waking up. Kinda like the other rule I have, of ignoring email till I’m all settled down after some good breakfast, unless it’s urgent from work or a really close buddy-o. Don’t get me wrong; I love the ability of being able to keep in such close communication through texting, but more often than not – once texting begins, it sometimes doesn’t stop!
The Endless Maintenance Loop
You see, once you start texting, the person’s gonna reply back, right? Cool, but here’s the problem: the more texts you send, the more you receive – and the more both sides feel obligated to text back, creating what I’d like to call: the Endless Maintenance Loop. I mean hey, I definitely like talking to you, which is why I feel the obligation in the first place, but once that connection turns into maintenance (read: over-dependence), it becomes stifling!
So much so, that it sometimes starts to feel like it’s preventing me from engaging in other matters:
- like trying to pay attention to other relationships (I already told you I’m out with a couple of mates for dinner, get the bloody hint that I’m going to talk to them instead of you for a while);
- meeting academic or career responsibilities (maybe it’s a bad habit of mine to ignore personal chats during peak office hours, but jeez I will reply you after – no need to triple text me to what actually amounts to a “Hi, how are you?”);
- or even seeing each other in person (because now that you’ve literally texted me everything that’s been going on with you, what else do we have left to catch up on over an actual, well, catch-up)?
Silly Non-Verbal Confusion
This same mindset changed what I once upon a time believed “haha” actually meant; that you or I found something funny. Unfortunately, this phrase can’t properly convey that meaning anymore, because toneless texting just doesn’t allow for it. What I’m trying to say: is that we’ve now come to a point where “HAHAHAHA” could really just be a filler word for awkward gaps in our text conversation. Whoops!
‘Cause in actual face-to-face conversations, words and sentences aren’t the only things being used to convey meaning. There’s all these blatant and subtle non-verbal cues that get added along: including things like your rhythmic vocal inflection, enthusiastic facial expressions and dynamic body language, (or well, lack thereof). These things are critical to when you’re trying to tell me, that you hate the taste of the cake I made you try, without trying to hurt my feelings because I baked it.
None of these things, however, come through via text, and this definitely affects how we communicate with each other. Come on don’t deny it, try this classic of choosing to say any one word in “I didn’t say she did it” louder than the rest at a time. You’d be lying to yourself if you didn’t realize that the meaning of the sentence changes, depending on which word you choose to emphasize! This becomes especially worrying, when one of us accidentally takes a text joke more seriously than the other person (okay already, I said I was sorry).
Self-Caused Anxiety & Abandonment
Look, even I know the anxiety that gets created when someone doesn’t text back for a couple of hours – let alone for a couple of days, that sometimes I fall victim to my own “don’t triple text” rule. But reality check, that’s just the way it is: because no matter how important you think your text is, the other party only needs to put their phones aside and disregard your entire existence for that moment. That’s something you can’t do in-person; someone can’t ignore you when you’re face-to-face (believe me, I’ve tried).
The more time that passes without a reply, the harder that little voice inside you is gonna say you’re being sidelined. What’s worse is when you’ve forgotten about sending out a text, only to realize that you’ve been ignored hours later, when you notice you still haven’t received that darn reply. Back to the anxiety you were building up? Well, I’d like to believe that the number of hours ignored is proportional to the intensity of abandonment and shame you’ll feel.
Well, it’s ’cause you’d be on edge until you get (or don’t get) that answer, and everyone knows this is compounded by the dreaded “Blue Tick”. Officially, it’s called a Read Receipt – and I believe they’re one of the 21st century’s absolute worst ideas ever. When people have Read Receipts turned on (which I do), they alert everybody to exactly when they’ve read your text message – it’s because I’m trying to tell you that: “Yes, I saw your message but I’m just really busy right now and will answer later”. Yet, who knows how many times people (and I) have misinterpreted that the other party wants you to know that they saw your message and is purposely ignoring you. Bummer!
Stop Small Talk Texts, Think True Connection
In hindsight, I’m not proud that I’ve told several people off when I’ve gotten really, really, tired of random text messages that have no substance at all (sometimes leading to us never texting again), but I honestly sometimes don’t see what you want my responses to be here. I’ve gotten random messages about how someone’s room is so cold that they need a jacket, or received a photo of someone’s Starbucks with an upset emoji because it doesn’t taste good, or that maybe they’ve finished their exam paper outta nowhere, with no other contexts what so ever.
It’s mundane updates about your day, that I didn’t ask for, and if you really wanted to talk about, could’ve included what exactly about it and not leave me with no entry to meaningfully reply you with. More essentially, it’s Small Talk, and it’s meant to be light and fun. However, the truth is that small talk enables two parties to have an entire conversation without any real substance. Instead, the conversation is flat and boring, where it’s just a game of ping-pong, with the conversation ball moving in a straight line, all the damn time. It’s predictable messages, with predictable replies, and I frankly get inextricably tired of it.
Borrowing this beautiful quote from Laurie Helgoe who originally meant it for Introverts, but I think highly applies to texting as well, is that: “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.”
Well, when does the conversation end? Is it over when one of you feels that it’s done? What if I think it’s done, but the other person didn’t, so they think they’re being ignored? How have we gotten ourselves into this overly-social mess, of constantly being in communication with every single person, at every hour of the day? Why am I asking you so many questions?
At the crux of it all, we don’t even give each other chances to “have distance make the heart grow fonder” because we’re always in the middle of a digital text conversation either way. I guess that’s: why sometimes I don’t text back.