Read receipts: they split opinion. When I wrote a piece last month about how, to me, read receipts are the devil incarnate, the response was mixed. Some (rightfully) agreed that alongside being intrusive in terms of your personal time (I don’t want people to know when I’m on my phone - whether that’s bizarre or not is a topic for another time), they also set a ticking time bomb on your expected response rate, with the boundaries ever shrinking around the consequence of being rude.
Others - those with big bollocks - weren’t bothered by this, and actually found it helpful. Let the people know that I’m on my phone! Who cares! I’ll reply when I’m ready, if I reply at all.
Tossing this idea around of the duty to respond got me thinking about our relationship with technology. More specifically, how over-available it has led a lot of us to become.
Let’s wind back the clock. Back in the day, before mobile phones, emails and - somehow, I now have to count this as a mode of communication - Instagram messages, once you clocked out at 5pm and your feet hit the welcome mat, you were off the grid. Unless someone had the audacity to call your home phone, your time, for the most part, was your own. Nobody was going to begrudge you 45 minutes of reading the newspaper on the bog or lying down and spending the whole time thinking about standing up, mostly because nobody had any way of knowing what you were doing. There were no Snapchat updates, no checking in on Facebook with a TGIF Bitmoji; you could sit down with your beans on toast (don’t forget the grated cheese), and spend your evening how an evening should be spent - no longer working.
Now, things seem a little different. We have to make a conscious effort to “switch off”, because our lives have become so intertwined with the devices we pore over all day, that we feel guilty for tearing ourselves away. If not guilty, at least uncomfortable. And when we do proceed to live our lives without obsessively checking our inbox or live-streaming the movement of our bowels, other people get a bit pissed off.
I’m actually writing this on board my flight back from Naples, having spent two weeks interrailing around Italy. I uploaded about 9 Instagram posts over the two weeks, minus a few I uploaded and then deleted because I’m stuck in a rut of not liking anything that I create. That’s pretty slim pickings for a blogger, but I was on holiday *shrugging lady emoji*. I didn’t want to be working.
I checked my emails intermittently whilst I was away, but understandably, I wanted to spend my time off NOT doing what I do whilst I’m at work. On the morning of our departure, I activated my out of office with glee, making sure not to include my phone number thanks to previous naivety which made me believe that, no, of course people wouldn’t unnecessarily call me whilst I was away (spoiler: they did). I was clocking out, ready to inevitably burn during my first few days of sun exposure and overindulge in the carbs that I’d been yearning for for months.
And yet despite the out of office message - the universally accepted signal of ‘I’m not going to reply, bish’ - I still had people double, nay, triple emailing me. For important matters I would have understood. Just because you go away on holiday doesn’t mean you can bail on pre-agreed collaborations or crucial client work. But for the release of a new hair bobble? Or for a question that could easily have been answered with a quick search on Google? Let ya gal live.
Thing is, as irksome as those persistent emails are in the face of a clear out of office, they can be easily ignored. But what can’t be ignored is the implied rudeness of your radio silence. You picture the sender on the other end of the internet, bent over their keyboard with a frown and a deep sigh, rolling their eyes to their colleague and debating on a scale of 1-10 just how stuck up you’ve become. This could easily pass as speculation, but lately I’ve been seeing so many tweets about how “easy it is to just send a quick reply” that the anxiety is truly starting to settle in.
The other day I saw someone tweet about how they’re friends are all unsupportive because they don’t like every Instagram image they upload. I’ve also seen plenty of individuals in the same industry as myself - both PR and Marketing reps and bloggers/influencers - complaining about how rude it is to not receive a simple reply to an email. I feel like something needs to be said.
It’s not rude to not be available 24/7. It’s not rude to not always be on your phone, checking your emails and refreshing your Instagram feed, just to make sure you give someone the digital boost they’re looking to receive. People are busy, and their time belongs to themselves. If they’re on holiday and they don’t want to reply to your monthly newsletter or press release about glittery pink hair dye, then that doesn’t make them pretentious. It just means they have their head screwed on and they know how to prioritise what's important. If your best mate doesn’t like your latest Instagram pic, that doesn’t make them unsupportive - it just means that they’re probably not interested or that they’ve absent-mindedly scrolled past your image. Even if they actively choose to not like it, it’s not that deep. It’s just Instagram. It literally doesn’t exist. And they don’t owe you anything.
We all receive A LOT of digital information. If we choose to process with every single nugget of interaction, then we'll end up sacrificing our time and our sanity, and frankly, I’m just not willing to do that. I try and reply to as much as possible, but if I open something and I don’t think it’s relevant to me, I can't feel obligated to reply.
Instagram messages are a little different. I appreciate every one I receive and they’re always filled with love and sass and pure fucking hilarity, but often I feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to always reply, and after a long day of working and finally sitting down to chill at 8pm, I don’t want to spend the next couple of hours ‘talking’ on my phone. I hope - and know - that most people understand that, but it does still sometimes make me feel shit. Truth is, however, I would rather send a genuine reply when I have the time, as opposed to copy and pasting the same ‘Thanks babe! x’ message and blasting that out as a blanket response. If I’m having a convo, I want to have a proper convo. None of this cardboard cut out crap.
The same goes for work. We’ve gone from clocking out at 5pm and being in home mode, to clocking out at 5pm and being in work-at-home mode. If our boss, client, colleague or employee needs us, we’re only a WhatsApp message away. Our emails constantly update, feeding through to our phone and quietly screaming for attention through that little red circle of urgency. Even if we decide not to check anything or accept any calls until 9am the next morning, we feel guilty for doing so. We feel the burden of expectation weighing down on our shoulders, encouraging us to just tap out a quick reply and let the other person know they’ve been heard. But you’re not doing anything, so you must be available? It’s not good form not to be on the ball, you know. You really should reply right away. Just a quick one. You mustn’t be rude.
Well, I’m calling bullshit. I’m choosing to opt out of the guilt. Because, hey, newsflash: not being constantly available is not being rude. It’s just being a normal, functioning human being with priorities and privacy. Negative tweets can kiss my chunky butt cheeks, as can the triple email culprits. We’re all allowed to chill out without publicly declaring ‘hey, I’m about to chill out, do you mind if I don't reply?’.
Here’s to reclaiming our private time. C ya in a bit.
So here I am. It’s Friday, and I’m writing my first blog post of the week. In the back of...