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Texting Expectations Malibu

When someone texts you, do you feel pressure to immediately text them back?

This past holiday weekend, the fam and I rented a house near the beach and settled in for a few days. And while we each packed a device or two for the trip, screen time was at a minimum— the one TV in the place was utilized sparingly by the kids in the early morning (so their parents could sleep in!), and the portable games and such were usually relegated to one chunk of time in the early afternoon, after the day’s activities and before dinner. I won’t say we were completely free of the tech grip, but we spent many hours playing on the beach, where fun and sun were plentiful and cell service was spotty.

All this outdoor family bonding time inspired me to spend some chunks of time without my phone— I left it behind for meals, and didn’t check it for hours at a time during the day. I admit that at first I was a bit antsy about unplugging myself from the world at large, but that soon subsided. What was more stressful was everyone else’s reaction to it.

On our first morning, we went out to breakfast, and I left my phone behind. I returned to a couple agitated voice mails from my dad, letting me know that he worries when he can’t reach me, and that I needed to call him back soon, and where was I, anyway? Later, I tried to explain that it was a good thing that I was unreachable, that it meant that my family and I were enjoying some unplugged time in today’s connected world. He thought that was marvelous, but next time he’d just like me to have my phone on me… just in case he needs to know how we are. Sigh.

Later in the weekend, we spent an afternoon on the beach while my phone charged in the room above, and I returned later to find three texts from a friend, all within 15 minutes of each other, of the “hello? hellooooo? are you there? let me know you got this…” nature.

Texting expectations Dolphins Annie

This was the crazy view from our balcony. That’s Annie, with dolphins cresting in the background. They had to peel my fingers off the doorframe to get me to leave.


It got me thinking: [highlight] Has always being reachable become the new cultural expectation? [/highlight] Or was it something that I had taught people to expect of me personally? Did my habit of promptly responding to incoming communications teach people to think that something must be terribly wrong if I don’t get back to them right away? Or have everyone’s expectations on this subject just gone totally wacko?

It was true that, when picking up my phone after an absence, I did wince a bit to see stale texts that I hadn’t responded to, especially if it looked like the person was bugged that I wasn’t responding. It felt a bit like I had told them to meet me somewhere, but then stood them up. But that’s a crazy way to feel, no? A better analogy would be that they suddenly demanded that I meet them somewhere, and then were surprised that I wasn’t instantly there! I mean, I don’t owe everyone who texts me an immediate response… right?

Flipside: When someone doesn’t text me back within seconds or minutes, my thoughts sound something like this: Am I just not at all important? Are you seeing this and just choosing not to respond? I’ve seen you and you’re constantly on your phone, so why don’t you answer me? Is this a power play thing? Should I take a hint? Because I’m not buying this ‘I forgot to hit send’ crap! 

Yeesh. I know I’m not the only one who goes into a tizzy like this. It’s one of the nasty effects of asynchronous communication— where the back-and-forth of a conversation doesn’t happen in succession, like in a telephone call. Email is asynchronous too, but since we text on personal devices, and most people are never without them… texting has these especially high expectations, and we’re all the victims of that pressure to be ever-responsive. Many people simply don’t respond because they’re just too overwhelmed: Between Facebook messenger, emails from multiple accounts, texts, Skypes, and tons of other apps that have message boxes… it just becomes too much to juggle. We end up responding to no one, which in turn pisses off everyone.

So, of course people are going to be bent out of shape if I don’t have my phone with me. But then what’s the fix? I don’t want to be a slave to my phone, or to the hundreds of conversations that are thrust upon me through it. And I don’t want to resent the people that are simply texting at a time that’s convenient for them, not thinking about the pressure it puts on the person at the other end. This is a new cultural phenomenon that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

How do you deal with it? And do you think you do a good job, or is this a source of stress (or battles) in your relationships?

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