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The Procrastination of Texting, Fueled by the Urgency to Respond

Texting is the superstar of the 21st century. It is an act full of affirmations, jokes, emojis, and memes, and it lays the foundation for conversation in 2023. Sometimes, it feels like we speak more frequently in texts than we use our own voice—the average college student spends 94.6 minutes a day texting. Phones, computers, and smartwatches allow us to be on call whenever and wherever. So, after a text is sent, we expect an immediate response.

A response doesn’t always come immediately though. Sometimes it won’t come through until an hour later or a day or never. My roommate and I recently reflected on these tensions. Our generation is always so eager to hear back from others, yet we often find ourselves needing a minute to comprehend a text before we can craft a reply. Here is a reflection on the reasons why we might not get a response right away, the approaches we take to these delays, and some moments when a delay is and is not justified. 

You simply don’t know the answer:

Sometimes, you don’t respond to a text because you have no additional details to respond with. Perhaps you’re waiting to hear logistics for family plans or your work schedule. Or you need approval from your roommates to host a club event. But, it is better to admit you don’t have the answer than to not respond at all. 

No one likes to be ghosted. In the long run of a relationship, it’s better if you are upfront about your situation. Most people will appreciate your effort to keep them informed instead of ignoring the message altogether. 

You want the perfect response: 

The satisfaction that comes from a captivating response is priceless, such as an epic comeback in a group chat or the comedic relief that spares a dull conversation. Sometimes these words flow naturally, but often for wordy writers like me, I find myself ruminating over finding the “perfect” words to send. Do I start a message with “hey,” “hi,” or “what’s up?” Will my satire be read as a joke? How many exclamation points should I use?

I find myself searching for the perfect response because words showcase our character. Sending a text message permanently ties words to your identity. We develop our “personal brand” through our vocal tone and diction, so we should care about the words flowing from our digital voices. 

When we quickly write a message, we risk linking poor words to our identity. Rushing texts means we speak before we think. It never hurts to think twice about the implications of your speech. Think about how the words you are about to send affect how you’re portrayed. 

The book chapter:

Perhaps you have a text chain going with your high school best friend, your roommate abroad, or your parent. These five-paragraph messages take you 10 minutes to read and another 30 minutes to respond to—that’s long enough to be a block in your Google Calendar!

Lengthy messages require time, care, and attentiveness, and they deserve more than a mere glance. When schedules get busy, it can be hard to dedicate a few spare minutes to sit with these precious words. Don’t procrastinate the response, but instead prepare it slowly, write pieces at a time, or reflect on how you are going to respond. After all, the sender took extensive time to write the message to you, and they deserve consideration in your response. It’s likely you’ll want to reciprocate similar details, so it’s worth waiting to respond until you have time to sit with the message and fully engage with its content. 

Actions speak louder than words:

The act of not responding to a text requires the least amount of cognitive effort, but its implications might hold the most weight. Even if you unintentionally don’t respond—phone dies, bad reception, or you accidentally delete the text—the act of not responding produces negative effects. When I’ve been left “on read,” I feel hurt and frustrated, and a lingering strain is put on the relationship due to the gap in communication.  

A continued lack of responses creates an inconsiderate energy. It distances the individuals, and it hints that one party might not put the same effort into a relationship. Perhaps you purposefully don’t respond to show frustration or annoyance toward someone. Or you leave the words lingering to let the sender know you don’t like what they just wrote and that it doesn’t deserve a response. While these situations have strong implications, it might pay to directly address any unspoken emotions if you want to salvage the relationship.

In these cases, it’s important to remember the centrality of technology in our lives. Technology dominates our world and is accessible everywhere—the classroom, workplace, and every crossroad in between. Thanks to free wifi, hotspots, and the mobility of devices, there’s really no excuse to “not be able to respond” due to poor service. Here’s a friendly plea to not let yourself down easily by using that excuse!

Non-stop responses!

These rapid-fire conversations are stimulating. There’s an energizing feeling when the three buttons that indicate your recipient messenger is typing remain constant. This attentiveness to the conversation makes the texting stream feel more natural in getting to know others. By keeping the messages flowing, you learn more about people, ideas, places, and beliefs that resonate with our values and keep us yearning.

It’s hard to be the person to break the momentum, but someone has to do it. The banter with the person you’re flirting with might need to come to an end when your alarm is going to go off in three hours. Your study group rant about brutal exam questions should move on after 10 minutes of raging emotions. Your text planning a Spring Break vacation with your roommates might simmer down when the ideas and research fall into place.

Take the energy from this stimulation and translate it into real life experiences outside the text chain. Meet up with the person on the other side of the number you were flirting with. Mute your phone while in class. Set your phone aside while on that Spring Break vacation. Your future self will thank you for staying present. 

A moment to reflect: 

Language nourishes human connection. Wondrously complex words hold intricate meaning and density. Often, we need a minute to consider their meaning and relation to the speaker. Taking a pause establishes a deeper understanding of a message as we use cues and characteristics to grasp the tone of the writer. Just think of the power the words “hey,” “thank you,” and “love” carry based on the author’s context. 

It’s important for both senders and receivers to remember that tone doesn’t always translate through text. Don’t assume a text’s meaning, as there are two different voices reading the same text. As my leadership professor argues, “if you have a brain, you have a bias,” so likewise, we all have a unique way of interpreting the world. If you’re having doubts about a text’s meaning, craft your response with fresh eyes, even if it’s just a minute or two later. This pause will limit the chances you misinterpret the message and increase your empathy for your correspondent’s words. 

October 26, 2023