Read Receipts Will Ruin Your Life, but People Use Them Anyway
We asked a psychotherapist and several millennials if texting with read receipts could ever be used for good instead of evil.
Photo by Marija Mandic via Stocksy
Earlier this week, while texting a potential hookup, I was ambushed with a question: "Do you have read receipts turned on just to fuck with people?" A panic of emotions rushed through me. Am I an important business lady with places to be and read receipts to be sent? Or am I a suss millennial plucking on heartstrings with digital time-stamps?
What may very well have begun as an innocuous productivity tool has become a divisive cultural phenomenon. Elle described read receipts as a secret weapon used by "digital dating assassins," referring to the common practice of turning on read receipts in order to psyche out potential paramours. NY Mag's The Cut issued a plea to iPhone users begging them to turn off the receipts of doom and uncertainty. The Guardian called people who keep them on "weirdos." One must search all the way back to 2011, when read receipts were new and hadn't yet proven themselves an easy way to plumb the depths of human depravity, to find a positive assessment of the technology: Gizmodo argued read receipts were the "neatest" part of iMessage, and that they would make everyone "love you."
Indeed, if a texter uses his read receipts responsibly, always replying to texts immediately, he seems more interested in you than someone who lives his virtual life more mysteriously. There is an appeal. According to Lisa Brateman, a psychotherapist and relationship expert based in New York, our love–hate relationship with the technology has to do with wanting to be in control of the interaction—if you have them on, you feel like you dictate the terms of the conversation, and if you have them off, you feel unfettered and liberated, able to ignore anyone you want with no consequences. The only person who really loses is the recipient. "If someone has the time-stamp on, you try to figure out exactly what's going on," Brateman says. If the other person is slow to respond, you begin to assume they are doing so "purposefully." "You start to make up a whole story of it," Brateman says. "If this person waits too long, what does it mean about the relationship? What does it mean about me?"
Is it possible to live a modern life without having an opinion on read receipts? We asked people on all sides of the debate to find out. It seems like the answer is no.
My dad would think I was dead if I had them on, because he sends me weird things all the time that I don't know how to respond to.
I don't personally use read receipts because I'm a really shady and strategically off-the-grid type of gal. But I don't like or want people to know just how shady I truly am. I actually love when other people have them on—I think they seem so transparent and trustworthy. But I never could and never would.
I have a friend who uses them as a motivational tool—she knows that her receipts are on, and that knowledge forces her to respond to people. When she starts becoming romantically engaged with someone, then she starts to use them as a tool to manipulate.
I used to have them on and think that they're pretty nice—a good gesture for more direct and clear communication. They're now turned off because I started working jobs where bosses would text me about shifts. I don't want to feel obliged to text back my boss as soon as I read the text.
I've never used read receipts because some of my friends expect very specific responses when they tell me things. This one girl tells me her guy problems, and I have to wait several days before I can gather the willpower to lie and tell her what she wants to hear so she'll leave me alone and stop trying to convince me that these weird boys are in love with her. Also, my dad would think I was dead if I had them on, because he sends me weird things all the time that I don't know how to respond to.
If I had reads on, it would be a shitshow. A total clusterfuck. It's not that I'm shady or anything like that; I just don't usually respond because I have somewhere to go or something else to do. If I am going to respond, I'll do it when I have the time to engage in a meaningful conversation (whatever that means via texting).
I also have them off for my privacy. I don't care much for people knowing I read the message but didn't respond. That's just spiteful.
People who overthink texting diplomacy need day jobs or friends.
I use read receipts for purely logistical reasons, and I appreciate when others have them on, too. If a friend texts me to confirm that we are meeting up at noon and they see that I've seen the text, they know I'm going to be there. If I were suss and busy, they wouldn't see the read receipt confirmation and might have to call me or do something else drastic to make sure that I'm going to show up. The converse applies, too: Seeing a read reciept gives me the reassurance that we are on the same page.
People are busy, and it's overkill to always text back "fo sho" to everything. Read receipts are a quick one-and-done for planning. People who overthink texting diplomacy need day jobs or friends.
I don't have them on because people aren't honest with read receipts. People can read the message in the notification screen without actually "opening" the message, which triggers the receipt. [If I had them on,] I would purposely avoid clicking on the message all the time.
On the other hand, I would love if I could just turn them on for specific people. I buy into the psychology of texting, and I do wait to respond to make it seem like I'm less interested or super busy. But I don't want to mess with everyone—just a certain few people.
Since iMessage came out, I have only turned my read receipts on once. My boyfriend at the time told me that he wanted to take a break for the summer. For some unknown reason, he thought the conversation went well.
Afterwards, my friend and I headed to a soccer game. My boyfriend was obsessed with soccer and kept texting me throughout the game to get updates. He has just told me he wanted a break, so I did the most passive aggressive thing I could think of: I turned on my read receipts for the first time to let him know I was ignoring him. This worked in my favor because at the end of the night, he realized he had hurt my feelings and apologized to me. After that, I returned to my sketch ways; my read receipts are now off.