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A question of responsiveness:

How quickly should you answer a text, and how do you know if a text message even needs a reply?  I have a friend who waits hours to reply to me and sometimes doesn’t reply at all.


Permit me to break it down into two separate relationships: Work and Life

If Work requires you to check your email or texts on your mobile device and reply to them in a timely fashion, then the rule there is to ask the boss what her expectations are and beat them (that is, exceed the expectations.  It is inadvisable to ask your boss a question and then follow that up with a punch, but then I don’t know where you work).

During your work hours of course, or in lieu of whatever life you’d have if you weren’t compulsively checking your phone.

In Life, you may respond to a text message whenever you feel like it.  A text message is the digital equivalent of a smoke signal – if you don’t see it, you don’t see it, and if you don’t feel like starting a fire and smothering it with animal skins…oh, you get my drift.

The problem arises, I think, when one person is bored, or inquisitive, and is waiting for a reply from the recipient of said text message to alleviate one’s boredom or curiosity.  The first example really requires the texter to be patient, which the medium rarely permits.  Tough.  If you want someone to jump in response to the messages you send, then you need to look up a couple of paragraphs and realize you’re looking for an employee and pay them accordingly.  At the very least you should offer to pay their phone bill.

The second example requires a response to a question – say, to dinner, or some emotional crisis or other social event.  If you don’t respond, you miss out.  Think of it as the final nail in the coffin of the R.s.v.p. – at least in this format.  They started strangling it with “regrets only” and now you can’t get a decent reply from anybody…or can you?

The invention of the mobile communication device, originally a pigeon though the technology has improved somewhat, is a wonderful and revolutionary thing.  The ease and speed of contact has had all sorts of wonderful effects on relationships and commerce, business and pleasure.  It is to be embraced with open arms.

But like anything or anyone else you embrace with open arms, you don’t then hug it tightly to heaving bosom and never let it go.  You have to let it go, or one of you will starve to death.  This is what I think has happened, at least a little bit, with the advent of the text message and the mobile device in general – intercourse is starving for variety.  Cell phones are delightful, yes, spiffy and therapeutically distracting.  But so is masturbating, and the things we enjoy most should be enjoyed in moderation.

Oh, but it isn’t the speed of the return post you’re actually asking about, is it?  It’s that your feelings are hurt because you didn’t get an instantaneous response.  Please.  One of the things that is inarguable about the tendency we have to sit and stare at the tiny, glowing boxes in our palms is that we’ve become increasingly isolated and self-absorbed; something that hardly needs assistance in human nature.  We may as well be holding a compact mirror and staring into it day after day.

If the response you require is that urgent, perhaps you should think of reaching out in a less passive way.  Why, you can even look at your log of recent texts and just press “call” or “connect” next time.

Failing an engraved invitation, that is.

Until then we should reconcile ourselves to the fact that, reality television “stars” notwithstanding, the little men and women who populate the various sizes of glowing screens in our lives are actual, real people with other demands on their time and attention and we should treat them as such.  They are not entertainers or servants, and you have no idea, no idea what’s going on day to day in someone else’s mind – just your own (maybe).  Getting bent out of shape about something as trivial as an unreturned text is a child-sized monster of selfishness and should be strangled and stuffed under a bed.  Maybe they hate talking on the phone.  Maybe they think texting is an amusing diversion, but becomes tiresome and chaffing after a while (see masturbation).

Or maybe they’re just enjoying the vanishingly rare treat of peace and quiet.

Whatever it is, our search for connection with other people must include respect for their own needs of distance or timing.  Seek out other means of reaching out that, while inconvenient for you, perhaps, is more preferable to your correspondent.  Realize that the capacity of instantaneous communication doesn’t require that everyone cease leading their own lives.  And more to the unspoken question – begin to find some way to derive satisfaction from the content of your friendship, from building compromise and reciprocity – and stave off the horrid assumption that the only successful interactions are ones in which you always get what you want.


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