Commentary: You don’t have to be sorry for being a bad texter
In our fast-paced culture of instant gratification, perhaps it isn’t a bad thing to take the time to think through and craft text messages, says undergraduate Natalie Tan.
SINGAPORE: Everyone knows a bad texter.
The blue tick on your WhatsApp messages accompanied by radio silence, the uncertainty you feel when things are unconfirmed, the delayed replies.
Such poor texting inspires both amusement and perplexity. After all, texting is just putting words together in seconds to make or agree on arrangements.
But in our current milieu, texting has become more social than instrumental. Most millennials prefer to text than call – US infocomms company OpenMarket found that 75 per cent of Americans aged 18 to 34 would rather have a text-only phone than a voice-only one.
We text to check up on a friend we haven’t seen in a while, send funny posts and TikToks, and even go on a rampage of long and multiple paragraphs in the profession of heartbreak or love.
This kind of messaging doesn’t require instantaneous responses, which can be a benefit to those who prefer to stew and get back at a more convenient time – but a bane to those expecting a speedy reply. To the latter group, replies that come hours or days later are conversation killers, or worse, an expression of disinterest.
But why should slow replies be deemed as socially inept behavior beyond recourse? Have we forgotten the roots of texting’s appeal – convenience and practicality?
FOMO HAS MADE US ANXIOUS TEXTERS
The original form of texting, the SMS, stands for “short message service”, with its message limit set to 160 characters. The name indicates its functional purpose, but it’s been redefined as a means for instant gratification today.
Many of us can probably say our smartphones are the number one distraction in our daily lives. We are compelled to check our phones every few minutes, expecting a text or a notification.
We’ve all felt FOMO (fear of missing out) in our group chats on WhatsApp and Telegram. That slight drop in your heart when you realised you missed over 100 messages? An obligation to reply ensues, and we skim through the chat only to figure out which sticker or GIF is an appropriate comeback.
But not everyone has the time and energy for this, especially quieter and busier members of the group.
This magnetic force harks back to the culture we live in today – one surrounded by traps of instant gratification. According to Dr Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, people are compelled to text, giving and expecting instantaneous replies, because it yields a psychological reward.
People find it pointless to continue a conversation that’s been left for hours and days, because the excitement of awaiting a reply has fizzled away.
But relationships are like exquisite dishes – the process requires time, commitment and effort. In cultivating relationships of that quality, face-to-face conversation naturally triumphs any text.
But in the absence of meeting up, perhaps it’s not a bad thing to take the time and focus on crafting a message.
‘BAD TEXTERS’ ALL HAVE THEIR REASONS
What counts as a late reply really depends on your preferences. One to three hours may be enough to signal that you’re no longer interested in the chat, while three days or weeks seem like the perfect time for someone to ditch their date.
But some people like to stretch these windows a bit, and it’s almost never personal. In a “bad texter’s” eyes, perhaps they need or want more time to reply to your messages, especially if you’re having a deeper conversation about a news story or personal quandary.
Some also prefer to compartmentalise their tasks and have a set time where they check their phones and text. Or perhaps they just prefer to catch up with you in person.
Personality psychology might also play a role. Not replying immediately may signal a more secure attachment style, where one feels less of a need to text someone immediately for comfort in times of distress.
Some people who lean towards introversion would prefer to spend their time recharging themselves, rather than to expend energy on virtual interaction. An extroverted individual, on the other hand, rocks group chats and is always on top of their texting game.
We’re just different, and not being a great texter doesn’t make us any less of a friend or person.
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BECOMING A BETTER TEXT BUDDY
Still, this article isn’t a defence for the truly bad texters out there – ghosters, I’m referring to you.
It’s one thing to reply slowly, but another to ignore text messages routinely, especially when there’s no intention to maintain contact with the other party. It’s awful to see friends or romantic interests active on social media, but to have each attempt at conversation go cold. These people are just not interested, and they don’t even have the courtesy to tell you.
For the ones who don’t have a penchant for smartphones, there’s always room to be a better friend. Getting more intentional about texting is no pretext for poor communication, especially for someone who’s been waiting ages for you to decide on a meeting time and place – when the date’s tomorrow.
So if you see a text that you could reply to in seconds – one asking for confirmation, for instance – you could get to that immediately, because you might forget later.
Texting is a two-way street, and some consideration for the other party’s personality and communication style can go a long way in maintaining this relationship. Try mirroring your friends’ texting habits: Reply quickly to those who do, and for those who don’t, you can afford to take your time.
There are constantly opportunities for forming new bonds or strengthening old ones, even as the pandemic drags on. And texting is a low-effort, high-reward way of leveraging those opportunities.
You’d never know how much a sustained, comfortable conversation with a friend could brighten your day. And of course, keeping in touch with longtime friends and family is so much easier when you send more than one reply per week.
So bad texters, you don’t have to be sorry. You’re not any less of a friend, but you could perhaps be a tad more open in the process.
Natalie Tan is a final year Sociology undergraduate at NUS and a freelance writer.