How long do you take to respond to a text?
I’ve been told you can know all kinds of things by analyzing how long it takes the other person to respond. They could be having trouble figuring out what to say. They could choose not to respond, silence being a message on it’s own. They could be blatantly ignoring your message. Regardless of the reason, many believe that response time is intertwined with how much you matter to someone.
The invention of instant messaging did not come with a warning that relationship value is directly proportional to response time. I once received dozens of angry messages and phone calls from one person because I had not responded in over half an hour. I was in the shower. Despite telling the truth, I was accused of not valuing the relationship.
The more people I talk to, the more I realize that a lot of people are like this. They tell me, “If the other person doesn’t respond quickly, I feel like my efforts aren’t being reciprocated.” I can’t wrap my head around the idea. Everyone leads a busy life. There are classes to go to, friends to see and people to meet. How can you say you’re fully present when part of your mind is keeping tabs on the messages that come your way?
The intrinsic need to respond to messages immediately can’t possibly hinder your life, can it? It can, and it does. You’re getting coffee with a friend. Just as you’re describing something important, they reach for their phone to check a message. They missed what you said. We’ve all had it happen, and we’ve also been the perpetrator. Digital distractions occur again and again, and people wonder why they don’t have the attention in relationships that they desire.
A study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture had over 100 college students report on their smartphone use and dependencies. It was found that people who were more dependent on their smartphones were less certain about their relationships; less satisfied, even. The students relied on their phones and on message responses to confirm their importance and relieve anxieties.
The need to respond immediately also affects our ability to work. If you’re checking messages regularly, how can you say you are truly focused on a task? I see people with iMessage set up on their computer. I’ve been ridiculed for not having it on mine. Then I see those people “working.” They’re typing away at a paper due tomorrow, and a message pops up in colorful font at the corner of their screen along with a fun tone. They click to respond. Hours later, they wonder how they could be “working” for so long, and not have finished anything.
Where does the pressure to respond come from? When instant messaging first became popularized, the novelty of being able to reach a friend right away was likely a draw. Years later, we’re used to that reality. We use social media and texting to make plans and organize details, which often require prompt response. But the majority of the daily responses, the ones we interrupt class and face-to-face communication for, would be fine to delay.
Though it is courteous to respond to messages in a timely manner, it is more courteous to give your undivided attention to whoever you are with, when you are with them. When we learn how to put down our phones in exchange for quality time, we quickly realize that other people may be doing the same. A non-response is not so worrisome.
I propose we stop this stigma around reading into message response time. There’s hundreds of blog articles about “How Long A Person Takes To Text You Back And What It Actually Means,” trying to deduce all kinds of hidden meanings behind the lack of response. The likely case — they were busy, and they’ll get back to you.
It starts with a day. A day where you don’t check your messages on your phone until the end of the day. Turn the notifications on your computer off. Turn your phone on silent. The world might not end. You may feel less anxious; free, even. Give it a try.
Contact Maika Isogawa at misogawa ‘at’ stanford.edu.