By Nicole Doyle (17A01B) and Bryan Ling (17S06C)
‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.’
George R. R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons
‘Among her other talents were forgetting what she did not like and ignoring what she preferred not to see.’
Anna Godbersen, Bright Young Things
‘omg thanks for DAO’
We’ve all experienced it before – you’re happily texting your friend, taking full advantage of the wonders of modern technology and enjoying the ease of communications in our digital age.
They come online. They go offline. And you’re left with a small, helpful text informing you that your message has been”Read”, or “Seen”, alongside a timestamp to commemorate the occasion.
You just got blue ticked.
Originally stemming from Whatsapp’s signature blue ticks on read messages, the term blue ticking has now come to refer to the general practice of reading messages and not replying to them – when read receipts are on. And it may have unfortunate implications on how we communicate in a modern age.
Most of the time, blue ticking isn’t that big of a deal. There are a thousand and one reasons why someone would read your message but not reply. Maybe they’re walking and using their phone. Maybe their internet just cut out. Or maybe they’re just busy at the moment, and will get back to you as soon as possible.
Then again, maybe they’re ignoring you on purpose. Maybe something’s wrong with your connection. Maybe they just don’t care enough about you to stitch together a response. And it’s often these conclusions that niggle at the mind, keeping us glued to our screens, checking our connection, waiting for a reply.
Of course, it seems a little ridiculous to read so much into read receipts. But when you consider the context, it’s easy to see why people get annoyed. As one interviewee put it,
“… its real life equivalent is quite absurd. It’s like you walking up to someone and telling them something, and they just look at you and walk away without responding.”
So who’s to blame? Those who ignore or hate being ignored? Those who read too much into things, or those who read but don’t reply?
Perhaps the question we should really be asking is “Why do read receipts exist at all?” Though conventional wisdom tells us that more information is always good, practically speaking, there’s little applicability to knowing exactly when someone read your message, apart from enforcing accountability. But even this doesn’t seem to hold true in real life. As another student respondent put it, the whole point of blue ticks is to stop blueticking people.
With read receipts, there’s an implicit expectation to reply promptly to every little message – an unseen pressure that’s especially ironic given that text messaging systems were originally meant as an alternative convenient method of communication that didn’t rely on the other party being there at the exact same time.
But the ones who need to be pressured the most – that one friend who never seems to get your texts, maybe even a PW group mate who seems to, for all intents and purposes, not own a phone – are also the ones who are most likely to shamelessly blue tick you, or even turn read receipts off entirely.
There are a plethora of articles out there advertising sneaky tips and tricks (if not outright hacks) to circumvent read receipts and in some cases, remove them completely where apps don’t allow this.
Of course, not everyone who turns off read receipts is looking for a way to safely ignore messages. For some, it’s simply a matter of privacy – some last vestige of it, in a world where practically everything else about you is known.
One interviewee, ironically, turned off read receipts precisely because he hated getting blue ticked, but found himself in a state of neurotic obsession whenever he failed to get a prompt response.
In the end, though, what’s one to do? Modern technology has made communication quicker and easier than ever before. But the question will always be not whether we can communicate, but whether we want to.