I’ll Get Back to You When I Get Back To You
The New York Times with a piece on how smartphones have morphed from luxury to necessity, which includes this following observation regarding responding when people e-mail or text you:
“The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,” said David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”
All together, now: Bullshit.
First: If you are the sort of person who believes that all your e-mails/texts must be responded to instantaneously or sooner, you may be a self-absorbed twit. Please entertain the idea that your responder may have a life of his or her own, with priorities which may not conform to yours. Chimpanzees, dogs and certain species of squid have all developed a theory of mind — you can too, if you try. We’re all rooting for you out here.
Second: If you’re the sort of person who believes that all e-mails/texts must be responded to instantaneously or sooner, that probably means you’re ignoring something important right in front of you, like the other person at the table, or traffic on the freeway, or a large dog about to savage you because you’re carelessly walking on his lawn. For your own safety and the courtesy of others, please do pay attention to the real world. Just because an e-mail or text wants your attention doesn’t mean you’re obliged to give it.
Third: Can we all agree that we don’t want to live in a world where we are obliged to respond to e-mails/text in an unrealistically short period of time, lest we be thought an enormous douchenozzle? I think trying to respond to your e-mails/texts over a course of a day or even two is perfectly reasonable, coupled with the understanding that, in fact, not every e-mail/text requires a response, so you might not get one. If you really need an immediate response, you can ask for one in the e-mail/text — again, with the understanding that a) abusing the “please respond asap” privilege dumps you into the “self-absorbed twit” category, and b) that person may still not respond immediately.
Basically, if we all agree that we can act like people who don’t have to be ZOMG the centaar of Teh Univarse!!!one!! for every other person and thing, things will be a lot more pleasant overall.
Mind you, even if we can’t all agree with this, I’m still going to answer my e-mail/texts on my own sweet schedule, not anyone else’s. Yes, I have a smartphone. And yes, I do in fact answer e-mails and texts with it; it’s fun to do so. But the main reason I have the phone is so that if my car flips and I’m pinned under two tons of Honda steel, I can call for help. I may or may not answer texts/e-mails any sooner because I have the phone. Not answering immediately does not mean I don’t like you; it means I have my own life and I’m busy with it. If you can’t manage to grasp that basic and obvious fact, that goes into the bin marked “your problems,” not mine.
Note that this formulation does not apply if you are my wife. If you are my wife, your e-mails and texts are returned immediately. Because I totally love you, babe. Everyone else: Eh. I think this is a fair set of priorities, personally.