Why I turned on read receipts

Jan. 28, 2020, 8:22 p.m.

Honestly, I never thought this day would come. I’m not an incredible texter. I wake up some mornings, open messages, fall back asleep and forget I ever saw them. Having read receipts turned on means I can’t do that anymore.

It shouldn’t make sense, then, that I overwhelmingly prefer using Facebook Messenger, which has built-in read receipts, over iMessage. I used to just chalk it up to the reacts. I used to joke that iMessage reacts are so bad they can’t even call themselves reacts, and that’s why they’re instead called “tapbacks.” I will admit that any time someone uses a question mark react on one of my messages it feels a little bit hurtful. Do I really have that much trouble expressing things? Am I losing the people closest to me through miscommunication?

But what if it’s also because of the read receipts? I do appreciate being able to see exactly when someone’s seen my message, but iMessage lets you opt out. Just because one person has their read receipts on doesn’t mean the other person has to as well. So what do I gain from opting back in?

I think my decision can largely be explained by scrutinizing my texting habits, specifically my texting habits when I’m flirting with someone. I used to play the game religiously. Depending on how long it took them to text me, I’d do some rough mental calculations to determine when I should text back. This number generally fell anywhere between an hour to a day, but was definitely never less. I thought taking my time made me seem busier. I thought it made my time seem more valuable. 

But after a while, I ran out of the patience necessary to sustain that lifestyle. I found that I felt a lot more carefree just being direct and saying what I meant. I started texting back pretty much immediately. I noticed it made the other person more comfortable texting back immediately as well. And, when we started a text volley, there was more energy, and there was more tension, as every flirtation had to be thought up on the spot. It was intoxicating. But it was also a huge time sink, because we never wanted to stop.

After several weeks of noticing my phone’s screen time average creep up to a whopping eight hours per day, I decided to take a step back. If I had something to do that was even a marginally better use of my time, I’d postpone texting back. But now I suck at texting back. 

So last week, in an effort to get myself back into the habit of replying within 24 hours, I decided to turn on read receipts. At first, because nothing on my end changes, I forgot I’d even turned them on. Luckily, the first text I opened was a green bubble. I probably left a few people on read after that, but I did manage to text them back within a few hours. One thing I noticed is that, strangely, most of my iMessages are group messages, for which read receipts aren’t even enabled.

I also noticed myself wondering if turning read receipts on in my phone’s settings means the other person sees when I read it if I open the message on my laptop too. I haven’t Googled it yet, because to do so would be to admit that I’ve become such a bad texter I feel compelled to hack the very mechanism of accountability I’ve put in place for myself, but I feel like the answer wouldn’t really change my behavior either way.

I don’t think turning read receipts on actually held me accountable at all. Instead, it put my chaotic texting patterns on full display, and maybe that’s not the worst thing. At least now if people see that my read receipt has a timestamp before 10 a.m., they’ll know they should probably bump it.

Contact Eleni Aneziris at elenia ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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