One of my friends doesn’t have a smartphone. She doesn’t have a mobile phone of any sort. She has that rare thing that is rapidly becoming extinct – a landline. We keep in touch by email, which she checks every other day…maybe. If I’m in-country, I might call her at work. She’s not on Facebook. She doesn’t Tweet. And I doubt she’s ever heard of Instagram. When we meet, I’m never late. Not that I’m ever late anyway, but with her, there’s no last-minute texts to say I’m running 15 minutes behind. An arrangement with her is an arrangement that will be kept. She isn’t plagued by random offers, group posts, irrelevant conversations to which she doesn’t want to be party but is reluctant to opt out of because she might miss something. And I used to think she was missing out on lots of things – on invites, on events, on last-minute, spur-of-the-moment decisions. But I’m beginning to think that her way might be the better way. Everyone knows her rules of engagement.
My relationship with Facebook is a love-hate one. I first joined to play scrabble. I log in a couple of times day to check what’s going on in the world, what’s happening with my peeps. I don’t have FB on my phone and I don’t have FB Messenger on my phone either. I’ve been missing out on stuff lately though as people seem to be using Messenger more and more. And if something comes in, in between log-ins, then I don’t see it in time. But I can’t complain about not being told. The message was sent. I just didn’t pick it up. WhatsAp and Viber are my preferred choices but they’ve been quite quiet lately as the masses migrate to Messenger.
If I’m in company, my phone stays in my bag so I don’t read texts when they come in. And afterwards, I’m unlikely to check my phone until it rings again or until I go to Google something. When I’m at mass or in meetings, I put my phone on silent and it could be hours, sometimes a day or more before I remember to turn the volume back on. When I’m working, my phone is often in another room. I might not hear it beep or ring and it could be a while before I think to check it. The result? I miss updates. I miss messages. I miss calls.
I used to have Skype turned on when I was online but that got to be too much. Constant interruptions. So now, I schedule Skype chats and log in only when I need to. I check my emails at least once a day on the premise that there’s no such thing as an urgent email – you’d never email the police to say you were being burglarised. And while my response time might fall well short of modern-day expectations, it’s still pretty decent.
I’m beginning to resent these expectations. The ticks, the read reports, the sent confirmations – they all contribute to this. And somewhere along the way, we lose our sense of reason. I send you a message on WhatsApp. I see the two ticks, so I know it’s been delivered. When they turn to blue, I know you’ve read it. So why don’t you reply? Immediately? Hey! I’m talking to you! I disregard the myriad rational explanations that run the gamut from you just sat on the dentist’s chair to you’re dealing with a clowder of cats and a carton of spilled milk and instead, I go immediately to you can’t be arsed, Now that says a lot more about me than it does about you. That’s scary. So I’m now beginning to resist the immediacy that’s inveigling its way into our communication. I’m thinking, seriously, of disengaging. Like my friend.
But because I have a presence, because I’m online, because I text, tweet, and FB, going cold turkey would be akin to a virtual death. I think I’ll start by changing my expectations of you: If I want an immediate answer from you, I’ll make a phone call rather than rely on SMS. If I’m running late or have changed my plans, I’ll call. If there’s something you need to know, I’ll talk to you. If I send a message, feel free to reply at your leisure…or not. And then I’ll stop the apologies – apologies for not reading a text, for missing a call, for not checking in on FB. In time, it will be known that I’m not on messenger, that I can take days to answer FB messages, that I only occasionally check my phone for SMS. And like my friend, you’ll know to call or email if you want to get in touch.