Does a text message conversation take place? It has a beginning, I suppose, though who can remember when it was. Does it have a middle? An end? An ever-expanding middle maybe, half-punctuated by a series of tentative ends — and perhaps one final, devastating one. […]
When you receive a text message you are presented with a choice: you can treat it as you would a phone call and immediately answer and strike up a back and forth, or you can treat it as a letter — letting it linger, inspecting it for possible implications, reading between the lines, trying out various interpretations — then finally crafting a response attuned meticulously to imagined contingencies that you will send at the most opportune moment.
The text message’s built-in ambiguity — its optional absence — generates its own opportunities and anxieties. It opens up whole avenues for expression that alternately try to take advantage of or try to soften the threat of absence. Response time becomes its own form of communication.
I kind of hate messaging these days.
Over the years different software have imposed on their users FOMO inducing features that lead us to this ridiculous reality in which we all collectively agreed that a response to a text needs to be returned within minutes, no matter the content nor the urgency.
I sometimes choose emails over texts for this reason. I know — I am weird. BUT! Expectations are different with emails. We read less into it if someone takes a day or longer to get back to us (even though some people are trying to make emails obnoxious too).
The online status (last seen at), the typing indicator (is typing), and — worst of all — read receipts somehow ended up being our default, with all which that entails (mostly anxiety). It’s all working exactly as we designed it, as in: it’s all quite shitty:
Privacy remains one of the big and unresolved issues in our industry and while we often worry about data leaks and agonize over how much companies know about us, we often forget that it’s the small and barely noticeable losses of end-to-end user privacy that affect us socially the most. And while turning every privacy related decision into a setting might be enticing, it’s ultimately shortsighted. Designers are well aware that most users won’t bother changing a default. And the act of changing a default ironically always inadvertently reveals something about users, whether they want or not.
So what does a future that respects people’s micro-privacy feel like?
It’s knowing you can go online without having to fear what our online status may reveal about you. It’s about liking someone’s photo without the anxiety of being called out for it. And above anything, it’s about reading a message, without feeling guilty of not sending an immediate response.
“Do you know what ‘ttfn’ stands for?” I whipped around to see a lanky preteen girl browsing a rack of greeting cards with a friend. “No, what’s that?” asked the friend. “Ta ta for now,” the girl said. “People used to say it to text goodbye.”
Back to when going AFK was an option and we didn’t expect everyone to reply to everything within minutes.