Tt’s been an hour, and your phone hasn’t pinged as you expected.
You sent off a text, expecting a quick reply, but you’re still waiting. With each minute that passes, you get increasingly irked and resentful. How hard is it to take two seconds and say you’ll respond later? you think. Then, the longer you wait, you start to worry. What if your friend is cross with you, and your message wasn’t welcome? What if you’ve somehow misinterpreted your relationship with them? What if they’re hurt?...
This can push a sender’s anxiety into overdrive, increasing feelings of bitterness, thinking recipients have their phones on them all day, anyway – why can’t they just respond with a busy now, talk later, if they were happy to see your name pop up on their screen? These negative feelings can amplify when sending something light – think a joke or a meme – which can “seem like a very small act” to the sender, says Coye Cheshire, professor of social psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. It’s easy to expect a quick reply to these inconsequential messages – a haha or simple emoji – since a recipient doesn’t need to invest much into the response.
Part of what can exacerbate these nagging, uncomfortable feelings is that there’s no widely agreed-upon etiquette for behaviour in a world of 24/7 digital availability; we don’t have a universally accepted consensus on how long people can take to reply to a message before it becomes ‘rude’. This is because technology has “far outpaced our ability to develop norms and expectations”, says Cheshire.
Coye Cheshire is a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information.