Unnerving expectations for an instantaneous response
I’ve written a lot about our culture’s obsession with mobile devices and the way that they are transforming human interaction. Today I want to discuss the unnerving expectations we place on one another for an instantaneous response as well as the negative implications behind this way of thinking.
Each of us carries a mobile device with us at all hours of the day. Mobile phones have become less of a utility and more of an extension of our personal identity. When we text each other we know without a doubt that the other person felt or heard their phone and received the message, but unfortunately this doesn’t always mean they have the time to respond to it.
In our world of instant communication and satisfaction we place unjustified expectations on each other to respond in a timely manner without any room for delay. Our devices enforce these expectations with features like “read reports” or by marking messages as “seen.” That being said these features do come in handy for certain situations where a response isn’t warranted. For example if I let someone know that I received their email and notice that they have “seen” the message, I don’t require a response. It’s a double-edged sword that is transforming the way we communicate.
Many of us feel entitled to receive a quick response from the person we are communicating with, but the reality is there are plenty of valid reasons for not being able to respond. Texting and driving is a big problem in our hyper-digital world and unfortunately I believe these ungrounded expectations are a big reason that many people feel pressured to text while driving.
When we don’t receive an immediate reply from someone we tend to have an emotional response that leaves us filled with animosity towards the other person. As if this person is purposely ignoring us and couldn’t possibly have any other pressing matters to deal with in their life. How selfish of us.
Historically speaking when we wanted to communicate with another person we mailed them a physical letter without expecting a response for an extended period of time. Even as early as the invention of the telephone and email we generally expected a response within a few days, not a few seconds.
Today we are experiencing a dangerous cultural shift towards the expectation of instantaneous response.
A great majority of my workday is spent on my mobile device. I manage client accounts, respond to emails, read books on my Kindle app, and even write the drafts of posts like these on my iPhone. Sometimes when people text me or message me on Facebook I’m in the middle of something important and can’t afford to be distracted. Other times I am driving, at the gym, in a meeting, cooking, or visiting with family.
Just because I have my phone on me doesn’t mean I’m free to talk right now.
I’m not being rude on purpose. What I’m doing is living life and focusing on something more important than the latest viral video or cat picture, like keeping my eyes on the road. When someone doesn’t instantly respond to your message, don’t take it the wrong way. I listed a few good reasons for not answering, but the truth is that list is endless for every one of us.
If someone really needs you they will pick up the phone and call you. It’s that simple.
Nothing is so crucially important that it should distract someone from working, spending time with family, or focusing on the road. Our culture needs an expectation wakeup call when it comes to communicating with mobile devices. Then perhaps fewer of us will be inclined to text while driving or feel insulted when we don’t get a response in three seconds flat.