Why You Should Treat Your Texts Like Voicemails
I just finished reading Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport and it’s really stirring up some salient points. And that’s in me. Someone who began shredding his digital lifestyle about a year ago.
I deleted Facebook. It’s pure joy, by the way. I canned my LinkedIn. I engineered my phone in a way that the home screen only has essentials on it and the rest is…well the rest. Barely used and oft forgotten. I deleted my profiles from other sites I used a lot like Houzz, Bigger Pockets, Pinterest. But I am still not satisfied.
So I started reading Cal Newport’s new book, after Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. If you want to get your head out of your a** online and with your tech, read these books. But anyway, there’s a part of his new book that debates the usefulness of text messaging. And this is where something new dawned on me.
I need to start treating my texts like voicemails.
There’s no question texting is a useful invention. For someone who abhors talking on the phone like me, it’s basically a Christmas present every day of the year. My voicemail message tells callers to text me so I am kind of stuck with text. But I started to wonder how useful it really is to me.
When it comes to my kids, I need it. Even if I disable everything else, I need my kids to be able to reach me if they need something. Even when it’s a Starbucks request from behind a bedroom door. I also need to be able to reach them. To arrange pickup. To double check on something.
So it goes without saying that text messaging is useful. I don’t know that anyone could disagree. But aren’t we taking it a little far these days? Texting people back while talking to someone else. Telling someone, “I need to check this,” just because we forgot how to continually interact for more than two minutes without doing so.
I like it. I need it. But its overall and complete usefulness is waning in my mind.
Do you really want to be that available? In our modern culture, everyone expects us to respond within seconds. And if we don’t, they think something is wrong. Like we don’t go to the bathroom without our phones (most of us probably don’t actually) or take walks without them (haha, no one would ever do this in today’s world).
It’s kind of annoying though, no? When someone just texts you a question mark ten minutes after they asked you something. When someone copies and pastes the same text fifteen minutes after you first ignored it. Why are we required to be this available?
What about downtime? Privacy. Solitude. A little bit of just please leave me the f*ck alone time. Sometimes you just want everyone to shut the f*ck up. But they don’t. Because we are always available to them at the end of a text message. God forbid you start to reply, but then get hit by a bike. Your friend will be livid because they saw the unconsummated three dots. Ya text tease.
“When your friends and family are able to instigate meandering pseudo-conversations with you over text at any time, it’s easy for them to become complacent about your relationship.” — Cal Newport
Incoming text messages have to be the most distracting thing out there. Along with Facebook notifications for the photos from Siobhan’s wedding that you mistakenly clicked like on so now you will get alerts until you are well into your eighties.
They hit us all the time. And everyone needs an immediate answer to their very important question about whether you liked You better than Friends From College. It doesn’t matter. They were both good. They were both bad. Why do you need to know this at all, much less right now?
The bigger problem is that text messaging is a distraction from those we love. Our kids. Our partner. Our family. They want to engage with us, but our phone won’t stop blowing up because of the text chain about hybrid animals. The people we love would like us to speak to them, face-to-face, without a ding, ping or lurid vibration in our pocket.
“Once you no longer treat text interactions as an ongoing conversation that you must continually tend, it’s much easier to concentrate fully on the activity before you.” — Cal Newport
Don’t you want to take back control of your life from the clutches of your device? If you think back to the days of yesteryear, if you are that old, when answering machines were all we had, it was a real crapshoot. But it was our crapshoot to control.
You didn’t know if we got your rambling message about nothing. And sometimes we pretended like we didn’t. Oh, the tape broke. Yes, there used to be actual cassette tapes that recorded our messages. We could look at the blinking light telling us there were 4 messages and politely decline and pretend we never even saw them.
But now? You can’t do anything like that. You don’t even have control over your own time. You can’t blame the World Wide Web for losing their message anymore. We all know that didn’t happen. You got it. And you are ignoring it.
Unless you start to take back control and tell people that you don’t answer right away and to please be patient. That you took a long look at what breaks your rhythm in life and it turns out that it’s mostly texts. So you are going to respond in batches a couple times a day. Now you have control.
Why You Should Treat Your Texts Like Voicemails
Because you don’t want to be that available to anyone except yourself.
Because they are constantly distracting you throughout the day.
Because you want to take back control and decide when you want to respond.
It’s not even really like a voicemail because that’s a modern amenity. People know we have technically received their voicemail on our phone, even if we haven’t listened. Think of voicemail, in this context, as the old answering machine.
You control whether you listen. You control whether you acknowledge. You control whether you respond. And the person on the other end, who is so desperate for an answer about whether you like Spring or Fall better, can just f*cking wait. Because it’s your thing to control.
“Smartphones have reshaped people’s experience of the world by providing an always-present connection to a humming matrix of chatter and distraction.” — Cal Newport