I got a message on Viber 27 seconds ago. When do I respond? Immediately? What is the etiquette? Is there any etiquette?
People who have an active and useful memory of the 20th Century (like me for example) used to send letters to each other, a process by which weeks and months could pass in between missives. When we got email and could send a letter instantly without relying on the post office, we started to think about “response times”. One company I worked for mandated a maximum 48-hour response time for emails. This was soon sliced in two and 24 hours became the etiquette. After that, you were being lazy. Or rude. Or both.
And then instant message popped into our cultural monitors. Disembodied texts could suddenly appear to us, calling for immediate action. It is the equivalent of idly standing around your living room in your boxer shorts when BOOM – your boss is there looking impatiently at you for a response. It can be a little intrusive at times.
The problem we have not yet solved to any satisfaction, however, is when should we respond to these intrusions. Do you drop everything and check your messages every two minutes, tending to their needs? As a 20th Century guy, I tend to do this. And it may be a mistake.
Millennials know this instinctively, I think. They scare me a little.
As far as I can see, everyone tends to fall into one of four categories when it comes to responses. The results read a little more like a list of neuroses than communication habits. To wit:
THE QUICK DRAW –
This is me, most of the time. The QUICK DRAW feels that he (or she) must take heed of the message from the second of its beeping and respond as quickly as humanly possible. He (or she) (or just “I”) will also reply to emails, texted messages, Skypes, Facebook Messengering, Whatsppery, and the rest within seconds of their arrival. The Fast Responder is worried that if I do not respond, then they will think I am dead. Or have been kidnapped and spirited off to Nanda Parbat to face the wrath of Ra’s al Ghul. By responding quickly, I will allay everyone’s quite reasonable fears.
THE OBSERVER –
This is my nemesis. The Observer views all this electronic chatter as something that has nothing to do with her (or him). It is just something that happens in the world, and, at some point, the Observer may glance at the messages just out of general curiosity. He will not reply. At least not within the confines of our time-space continuum.
One day, in the unseen future, you will receive a text message from the Observer that says, “Yes.”
THE WAFFLER –
Much of the Waffler’s work happens off-stage. They will compose messages. They will look up references. They will then delete it all, for fear that they will not be understood. They will redraft, redelete, and again. Eventually, the message you get from the Waffler is so thoroughly over-thought that you will have no earthly idea what is being said. Perhaps nothing.
THE BUMBLER –
We all know these, right? These are the guys that send blank messages. Or send their girlfriend’s message to their mother. And the inverse. The Bumbler is no friend of predictive text and their messages are full of non-sequiturs and Mad Libs that simultaneously entertain, confuse, and deeply insult the recipient. The Bumbler may have evolved as a life form on this planet only to give George Takei material for his Facebook micro-blog.
By this time, it has now been over an hour since the initial Viber message that pinged me into this blog. I expect to read about my kidnapping and demise on Twitter any moment now.