by Max Furigay ’19
It is, sadly, only with some hyperbole that I declare here, today, that read receipts are contributing to the decline of Western civilization as we know it.
For those who are blessedly unaware of this unfortunate quirk that’s quickly becoming omnipresent in modern technology, read receipts are short messages sent as an automatic reply to a message sender. They are common in the iPhone’s iMessage, many email systems (thankfully, not Trinity’s), and other message-based smartphone apps. In some cases, like snapchat, read receipts are mandatory. And they are the worst.
I understand that, as a member of the youngest batch of Millennials, we generally are not supposed to complain about the unrelenting march of technology quite yet. But read receipts present such a perversion of modern communication that it has become necessary to address the issue.
It used to be that, one could respond to a text message or email at their leisure—be it in five minutes, a few hours, or even days after receiving the message. This was the norm, and society accepted that instant replies were rarities in digital communication. But now, with the advent of read receipts, not replying to someone’s text in five minutes has become a mortal sin, inviting accusations of “ignoring” them if not hasty with the requisite reply. What if I simply don’t want to talk to someone at that moment? What if I don’t need to engage with that person? These considerations, in our era of instant communication, have been invalidated.
Even those who actively avoid read receipts still fall victim to them. The new expectation is for everyone to be continuously available, ready to answer for sudden relationship drama, school-related emergencies, and Friday-night outfit advice. Given the ubiquity of iPhones and other media-sharing content, we now have the capability to instantly transmit inane or prolific communications to others. This doesn’t mean we should. And just because someone can reply instantly doesn’t mean we ought to be obligated to.
I worry that this era of instant connectivity challenges the privacy and the significance of conversation. The rapid regression of work-life and school-life balance marches on, while face-to-face interaction becomes cheaper and less valued by our generation as the quick, punchy text-centered instant gratification becomes our new norm. I miss when the only time instant replies were required was when two people chose to engage in actual face-to-face contact. Because of this new ease of interaction, conversational filters are becoming increasingly permissive, leading to a much larger amount of inane, trivial communication that (for some reason) society has decided requires expedient, attentive responses.
This is a problem. Without an attitude shift, concepts such as work-life separation, volunaty solitude, or any sort of refuge from others’ demands, questions, or complaints will soon be a thing of the past.