Sometimes I’ll just be sat at home, doing my thing, whether that be gaming, designing, editing, or some other thing, and I get a notification on my phone.

Now before I move on never let it be said that I’m completely careless, and have no respect or regard for others, but sometimes I just can’t find it within myself to care enough in order to warrant a reply. I simply look at the notification, and decide that I can reply at some point in the future. I just prefer to reply at my own leisure it seems, and don’t conform to the pre-concieved idea that instant messaging implies that we must offer instant replies back. I suppose part of it comes from my experience with messaging, and how if you have enough people talking to you it seems like a constant barrage of messages that you find yourself consumed by if you feel like you’re obligated to reply as soon as possible. It could also come from my thoughts behind the whole ‘instant messaging’ scenario.

Humanity relied on letters for countless years, and conversations were held differently. An entire month’s worth of content was squeezed into a letter and reply wouldn’t be expected for days or even weeks, depending on the distance the letter had to travel to its recipient. With the dawn of instant messaging however, short messages could be sent instantly to other people regardless of distance, and the only courier being network infasteucture. It wasn’t that bad at first, you went on MSN for conversations and you could log out of you didn’t feel like talking, and no one had any way of knowing if you’d read a text message or not. The pressure to reply to people wasn’t there. People didn’t know you’d read a message, they didn’t know you were on your phone, and they couldn’t tell if you were appearing offline.

Yet with the power of smartphones, location data, background processes, and applications using those functions, it’s become an impossibly hard task to not feel the obligation to reply. For example, even if you ignore a message on Facebook Messenger, people can still see that you are ‘active now’ if you open the app. Unless you set the WhatsApp settings accordingly, people can see if you are ‘online’ when you open the app. People somewhat expect you to have the iMessage ‘read receipt’ setting on, so they can see if you’re ignoring them or not. Countless other applications use the same pattern, often allowing people to either see you’re online and ignoring them, or have read their message…and ignoring them, creating an artificial feeling of responsibility that you owe that person a reply of some sort.

It’s become a serious source of angst and insecurity among my generation and even the generation above. Since the assumption behind instant messaging is the fact that you’ll reply instantly, when people don’t it can breed insecurity, especially when the message is read or they’re online. ‘Did I say something?’ ‘Are they okay?’ and ‘Have I something I don’t know about?’ are just some of the thoughts that might enter someone’s head when they don’t see a reply forthcoming even after a message has been read. What they don’t usually think however are some of the simplest reasons not to reply like ‘Maybe they’re busy’ Or ‘Perhaps they just don’t want to talk right now’. The argument that the person should just say ‘I don’t feel like talking right now’ is invalid too, because either that message will have to be sent out multiple times, or someone will ask ‘why?’ and the obligation to reply is created once again. The reactions to not replying for a lengthened amount of time are ridiculous in my opinion as well. Sometimes you may not feel like replying for a day, and what are you met with the next time? Usually a cold frigid demeanour, all because you didn’t reply ‘in time’. Since when was our time governed by everyone else and when they expect a reply back?

Before you accuse me of hypocrisy though, hold on. I don’t expect a reply back instantly. Honestly, if a person replies a week or even a month later it doesn’t phase me. I’m more liable to forget I even messaged them to be honest, and even when they do reply, I just pick back up where the conversation left off, not treat them as though they’ve committed some grave offence against the state.

Instant messaging is a great advancement don’t get me wrong, and it can be especially useful in having quick conversations and in emergencies, but the issue of insecurity when it comes to replies and the claws of artificial responsibility that companies and messaging services have dug into us (I’m looking at you, Facebook, with your messenger and non-optional ‘read’ function) have turned the evolution of that section of technology into more of a burden than a help.

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