Let’s be honest, read receipts are ruining all of our lives but we still couldn’t live without them
Read at 4.51pm
There is currently no greater unifying experience for our generation than the infuriating horror of being left on read. There is no symbol more powerful than the sight of the open Snapchat triangle, the ‘read at’ iMessage or the blue ticks of doom. It’s a sickness, an inescapable sickness which infects us all.
Read receipts are the backburner source of anxiety we all share. Recently a friend took the monumental decision to turn hers back on after avoiding it for a year. Another stared at a message she’d sent to a guy which said ‘delivered’ for more than a day but did not, crucially, say read. They’re people you wouldn’t normally consider putting such great importance on something so trivial. Smart, well-adjusted, funny people, but the great scythe of the read receipt comes for us all at some point or another, and only the strong survive.
Even outside of the panicked, half-drunk “why did they leave me on read tho???” chats you’ll have with your friends and funny tweets about the phenomenon, read receipts continue to fascinate us. Even The Guardian, not the kind of people you’d generally associate with the low level anxiety of being left on read, are apparently obsessed with it.
“I like having them, but I think the world would be a better place without them”, a friend told me when I asked him about it. “It’s turned texting and conversation into something really convoluted and tactical, which is boring. The argument on the other side of that though is that if you didn’t have them you’d just feel like you were being ignored.
“The thing I don’t like about them is that they make me feel like I have to leave an optimal amount of time between the message coming in and reading it, and then another optimal amount of time between reading it and responding.”
OK, admittedly, fine, read receipts probably aren’t the worst thing in the world. While they’re annoying, they’re probably not what the handwringing columnists at The Guardian call “emblematic of all that’s wrong with communication in the digital age”. It’s just an extra hassle, an extra worry, an extra daily dilemma about whether to suck it up and double text. The general consensus is when they’re a necessary evil, they’re fine.
“To turn them off when they’re on as default is weird”, says one of the main sources of texting etiquette in my friendship group. “Same with turning them on when they’re off as default. Either way it’s like, you’ve gone to such a hassle to let me know you’ve read my message but can’t be bothered to reply. Like, chill.”
Some people, and I am among them, think read receipts are the reserve of the brave. You have to have a real backbone to open someone’s text and not reply, rather than just ignoring the notification (also, admittedly it automatically makes you feel more busy and important than you really are). Like another friend told me “I love when people have them on, but I wouldn’t have the balls.”
There’s no way of escaping having to have an opinion on read receipts, which shows how important they are to all of us – even when we pretend. For the blue-ticker, the read receipt is a source of power and increased social standing. For the blue-tickee though, it’s a source of unending anxiety and a spiral of negative thought processes. Maybe someone opened your text and fell asleep, maybe they opened them and suddenly died, maybe they’re formulating the best text response you can ever hope to receive, a magnum opus of romantic digital communication, maybe they’re busy at work, maybe they’ve decided they hate you, maybe –
Oh no wait, he just replied. Nevermind.