What Does an Unanswered Text Message Really Mean?

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What Does an Unanswered Text Message Really Mean?

You send an arbitrary “Wanna hang out?" and are met with a half-hearted “hey sorry lol I fell asleep” days later. 

by jeremy glass

Hell hath no fury like a scorned text-recipient. What has the magical number of texts been decided where the person you’ve been steadily texting suddenly “walks into another room away from the phone”? I think this phenomena typically follows an uncomfortable question like: “what are you up to tonight?” It’s 2013 and easier than ever to, both fully expose your identity online, and ignore it altogether. People know when you’ve read their texts, but it’s a de facto law that you can ignore it if you want. The age of returned correspondence is sputtering its last few breaths as the line between online and offline grows more and more faint. 

"My phone is weird with messages." 

“I don’t know how to text on this thing.” 

“I don’t get service in some parts of my house.” Unhappy face. Winky sad face. Broken phone emoticon. You send an arbitrary “Wanna hang out?" and are met with a half-hearted “hey sorry lol I fell asleep” days later. One must inquire how exactly is your phone weird with messages? Texting has been around since 1992. More than 700 billions texts per year. Where is this message purgatory that all the late-night messages of all your sort-of-good-friends and ex’s end up? 

A land filled with with billions of texts like:

"What are you up to tonight?”

"My friend is DJ’ing in a bar in Brooklyn, wanna come?” 

"Um…did I just see you with a dude in LES?”  

A desert of lonely messages wandering around for eternity, doomed to never be answered. They ask each other who they were supposed to be sent to. Shrugs all around. 

“I think I was supposed to go to his ex-girlfriend.”

“I was sent to her co-worker after she had too much vodka.”

“I was just sent to make sure my girlfriend made it home alright.”

The poor neglected texts float around in a depressed daze, knowing they’ll never be acknowledged and their owner’s angst will grow with each passing minute. The room that your “other phone is in” is actually the fifth dimension. Your text-messages are rubbing elbows with trillions of missing left socks and Jimmy Hoffa. 

Then, with the advent of social media, text-anxiety went another level deeper and became even more complicated. First you'd be let down if your photo on MySpace wasn't commented on, then you'd find yourself bummed when you found no one left you any posts or messages on Facebook. Now, when a day goes by without a Snap, Instagram like, Tindr message, OkCupid wink, tweet, re-tweet, or text, life just feels empty. Which is weird. I like playing this game where I go back in time and try to explain social media to a 1930’s scientist or a 14th century Bubonic Plague victim.

I’d tell them how people compulsively check their phones every minute and miss important moments in their lives in fear of missing important moments on the Internet. I’d then try to convey the complete irony of the situation, because my job involves spending 10+ hours a day online. Halfway through my fantasy, I’d concede defeat and admit there are going to be bigger things out there. The moon landing, fast cars, electric razors. I mean, the Internet is an incredible thing and communication has become so easy. Then, in my fantasy, I accidentally bring back the black death, killing over 90% of America. Then who am I going to text?! On, the irony…the poetic justice. 

I wrote an article a while ago about how it’s impossible to go on a proper adventure due to our inability to turn away from our devices, but I’d like to amend my mission statement. When you’re this deep in the Internet, not only do you stop getting lost…you stop getting out. You start seeing and thinking in terms of apps. Your eyes become Instagram lenses and your words become tweets. Every quick retort is, by default, around 140 characters in length. Sunlight becomes brighter and you find yourself squinting as you use phrases like “does not want” and “upvote” in real life. Food can only be eaten when it’s validated by a like and commented on by a friend. Even the term “online” has mutated and shifted since its induction into our vocabulary. There was a time when we were all offline. You would sign off AIM or AOL and you’d be ejected into the real world and the only way you could get a message was in you signed back in. Now you’re handed a smartphone at birth and your online identity is born. There is no “plugged in”, because that implied you can unplug. For those who’ve been stuck in this routine of being in front of some sort of screen for hours upon hours a day, unplugging is not an option. 

So we’re stuck waiting. 

We anxiously await text messages we aren’t going to receive, but distract ourselves with even more forms of communication; sending pictures to exes, reading what people think about your favorite bar, expressing your opinions with the appropriate hashtag. What’s it all for? Attention? I mean, I’ll post pictures and opinions online that I know will elicit a response. I may never get the text message I’m waiting for, but at least I’ll get 20+ Facebook likes and a score of shares for posting a picture of the Dik Dik. 

How do we quell this anxiety of texting and waiting? Are we resigned to make the choice between online and offline? As I slip back into my time-travel fantasy, I think about going back to 2005, and telling everything to 18-year-old me. I’d apologize for not getting there early enough to warn him about the death of loved ones or keep him from getting mono after sharing a soda.. But I’d tell him to be careful. I’d warn him that there’s a life out there, but also in here. This is the point of the fantasy where I put my hand over his heart. 

"Young me," I'd say, "Put down your phone and go talk to her in person. You may end up getting married, you may get your heart broken, but at least you're giving it some effort. Then you're going to break up with her and none of this is going to matter. Besides, when the sun goes super-nova and envelopes the earth, a lost text message will be the last thing coursing through your lava-soaked brain." 

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