Monday, September 16, 2013

On Getting Hi

This morning, I woke up to a text message: "I'm deleting your damn number. I've tired of your ignorant bullshit." The message was from a number that I didn't recognize, but our text message history showed we had texted before. The last text was from July 28, incoming: "HI".

Before that, another incoming message on July 1: "Hi.."

Before that, a 5-message exchange in early June, regarding what we had done that day, initiated by this number I had never bothered to save, and ended by me when I couldn't think of a worthwhile reply to "I went to get food."

I had to scroll up several more messages before I remembered who this master conversationalist was: a guy I met on okCupid shortly before I started dating my boyfriend. This guy lives in the wilds of Pennsylvania or some other such impossibly distant locale. We've never met in person. He always seemed to want to chat by text message, but never had anything interesting to say or ask. His boringness was obvious in the fact that I never felt the need to save his number.

All I can assume from his most recent (and I guess final) text message is that he finds my failure to reply to his aimless "Hi"s a fatal form of ignorance (Is he mistaking ignorant—a term referring to lack of knowledge—for a nonexistant adjectival form of the verb ignore? That's a whole different grammar question to be explored another day).

I know he's not the only one to be offended by my selective texting, so I'd like to tackle at least one of the pressing issues of texting etiquette—the controversial use of generic greetings.

Texting differs from an in-person conversation in that it is not instantaneous. When a person says something to you face to face, you are obligated to reply immediately or else be seen as rude. When a person texts you, they have no idea whether you've received the message. They don't know what you're doing, whether you have your phone with you, or whether you're otherwise occupied. They cannot expect a response right away. But here's where it gets tricky. Do they have a right to expect a response at all?

In the case of the two neglected "Hi"s, I'm not sure what I was doing at 5:55pm on July 28, or at 10:26pm on July 1 (but probably sleeping), but I will assume that it was not a convenient time for me to engage in a chat. Now, to avoid any kind of misunderstanding, my best course of action would have been to reply with something like "can't talk now." But even that dashed-off response would require me to actually have the phone with me, not be otherwise occupied, and be awake.

It's not unusual for me to reply to a text message hours or occasionally even a day or two after I receive it, because that's when I finally have the time for texting. But a message like "Hi"—Is that even worth a delayed response at all?

Hi is a greeting. It's what you say to someone when you see them to acknowledge their presence. It is not an appropriate phrase to sling out into the vastness of space and hope it sparks a conversation. I feel like "Hi" has an expiration date, and after a few hours, it no longer makes sense to say Hi back.

I feel that if all you can think to say is "Hi," then clearly, you don't need to talk that badly. if you want talk, you should have something in mind to talk about, and then you should just start talking. That's the beauty of text messaging—it is direct, concise, and works best when you avoid all the little pleasantries that are obligatory in face-to-face conversation.

So here's some advice for those of you who imagine that you need to start every chat with a hello: You don't. And if you still want to, go ahead, but make sure you say something afterwards that has more substance. And if you are the type of person who suddenly blows up in anger over a month after some imagined slight, well, I just hope you were looking for your reply on the internet and not on your phone.


Geoff said...

I feel his pain.

Although I never lame it up with "hi" to you or anyone else (and if I have, strike me a liar), you are by far the worst or laziest responder in the history of textual communication :). The smiley face means I'm saying it in a nice way.

As for the "no idea whether you've received the message." line: if it is iPhone to iPhone, a lot of users have "read receipt" turned on, so they do know if you've read it. (Calm down, I know you don't use an iPhone)

I am also quite certain there are apps out there that tell when someone has looked at your message. If there isn't, I'm claiming it as my idea for whoever creates it.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people I never reply to because they are annoying as sin. OMG, do you think I'm annoying as sin? Crud. I think I just figured it out. Oh boy.