One of the benefits of technology has always been how easy it makes staying in touch with people. During COVID, I was able to talk to my grandparents from the safety of my home, and I can call my uncle who lives in New Zealand whenever he happens to have time.
We can text whomever we want, whenever and wherever. When we hang out with people, we can keep the conversation going even after we’ve left them. We are talking all day every day with people, either online or in person – and I need it to stop.
The issue isn’t necessarily the old argument that connecting over texting or social media makes it harder to be present with each other. I’ve found ways to connect with my friends by sending memes and having text discussions that only make the friendships stronger. The issue is that the ease of digital communication makes it impossible to be absent.
I can be contacted by anyone in my life at any time. By the same token, I can contact anyone in my life at any time. With the simplicity of that contact, there is an expectation that responses need to be quick.
At the same time, there is simply too much going on over text and social media for me to process all of it in a timely manner. According to a 2020 study on information overload, “over-exposure to information can suppress the likelihood of response by overloading users, contrary to analogies to biologically-inspired viral spread.”
As a fairly introverted person, I like to spend time with people, but once that time is over I need space to recharge my mental energy. Getting more and more texts makes that recovery time take so much longer, because I have to send the correct response to every message I get.
This applies to my friends, my work, my teachers and everyone else under the sun. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been having a very difficult time responding to messages in a timely manner.
Part of this is because I forget. Part of it is because I’m in the middle of something and don’t have time to provide a thoughtful answer. Part of it is because the thought of what the communication entails stresses me out, so I put off answering. And part of it – I’ll be the first to say it – is that I just don’t want to.
This isn’t because I don’t value the people sending me the messages, or the work the messages entail. I just don’t have the brain capacity for staying present 24/7.
We text our friends, and then we sometimes get upset when they take a while to text us back. Maybe we don’t get upset, but we wonder what’s going on to distract them so much. Perhaps our friends text us, and we’re the ones taking forever to respond. Then we feel guilty about it and take longer. Texts are also poor indicators of tone without emojis, leading us to tack a smiley face onto every text to make sure we don’t sound passive-aggressive.
Adding a romantic element just stresses everyone out on a completely new level. If they take more than an hour to respond, they don’t care. If they respond too quickly, they’re too eager and they need to back off. If they take a day, they don’t care at all.
NONE of this is necessarily true, and ALL of it is based completely on assumptions. It also contributes to the pressure that in order to maintain someone’s interest, they have to be the most important thing going on in your life, whether you even know if you really like them or not. It’s exhausting for the waiter, and it’s exhausting for the texter, and then they get to switch and suffer the other way. The whole process is ridiculous.
As human beings, connection is important, but we cannot be expected to connect at any given time. I’ll respond when I can respond in a way that your text merits, and I know I can give it the time and consideration that you deserve as a person.
Photo from Unsplash.com.