Getting Cyber-Stood Up

Who read the story about unanswered email in The New York Times this weekend? Anyone? Bueller?

Well, I did. And let me tell you. I at once nodded in agreement and hung my head in shame.

Here’s the gist: “For every fiery screed or gushy, tear-streaked confession in the ethersphere, it seems there’s a big patch of grainy, unresolved black. Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.”

There’s something so frustrating about writing an email that goes unanswered. In my professional life, I’ll pitch a story, follow up, and then… nothing. My most brilliant idea, lost in the ether. Or so it feels. In my social life, the non-response elicits fears that a friend is mad at me coupled with confusion about whether she received my note in the first place.

But then, I must admit: I’m totally guilty. I’ve got a backlog of starred emails in my inbox that I need to respond to. I’m going to, immediately, if I could just stop forgetting (slash procrastinating).

Shame on me. I know.

The problem with our culture of unresponsiveness, other than the fact that it’s rude, is that email and text is increasingly becoming the friendship communication method of choice. No longer are the days of two-hour phone calls. But if people aren’t responding to emails or texts, then what? What happens to plans with friends?

There are a million reasons why making friends feels harder and harder these days. People are so busy on Facebook they forget about in-person communication. They’re so overscheduled that they hardly have time for pre-existing friends, let along new ones. Plus, we’re scared potential BFFs will think we’re weird if we ask them out.

And then, if we conquer all these roadblocks, there’s still the question of how we’ll connect with our new friend. Phone? Email? Text? And no matter the method, will we ever hear back?

It does seem that the more methods of communication available to us–email, phone, text, IM, Gchat, Facebook chat, Twitter, Foursquare, on and on and on–the less likely we are to use any of them reliably. For me, the more communication methods that are aimed at me, the harder it is for me to be in touch in the first place. The barrage of messages, coupled with the necessity of keeping track of who chats which way and the sometimes simultaneous arrival of an email, voicemail and texts, can feel incredibly overwhelming. And eventually, paralyzing. Instead of making the plans with whatever potential BFF is willing to hang out with me that day, I just sit there, staring at the computer and the phone, wishing I had more energy.

This isn’t an excuse. Leaving messages unattended is unacceptable, and I can at least say I’m caught up with all blog-related emails from readers, as far as I know. What it is, I think, is an argument for how sometimes more choices make us less happy.

Bottom line, of course, is simple: Write back!

Have you found that corresponding with friends is harder these days? Do emails and text messages go unanswered for days? (Like I said, I’m plenty guilty, but am working on it…) Is this unresponsiveness responsible for the difficulty involved with friending?

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Getting Cyber-Stood Up

  1. Tonya

    This is definitely a timely post for me. I have friends who email and texts, but rarely call! I’m a caller. Other than the occasional lack of response to emails and texts, I think that friends nowadays expect you to be available 24/7. If you don’t respond ASAP, then you’re acting rude. Oh…and don’t take a week to respond, then automatically you’re presumed to be in a ditch! I’m all about responding; however, if I can’t reach you by email, then I’ll just call. If a friend is still unavailable, then I wait until she’s less busy and can get back to me.
    To be perfectly honest, sometimes I need a break from it all. I won’t check facebook, email, or even texts. But some people don’t understand the need to unplug and then you have a lot of confusion because you decided to go off the grid for a week.

  2. Non-responsiveness drives me nuts! It feels inconsiderate when people do it at work, like whatever I’m asking them/requesting from them isn’t important. And it’s even more annoying when I email or text a friend to see if they want to get together, and never hear back. Like, don’t leave me hanging. Is it really that hard to just type out a quick 10 second reply? Really? Maybe I’m more connected to all of the various communication outlets, but I rarely don’t respond to people right away, and if I do take a while, I apologize for not getting back to them sooner.

    • openfan@gmail.com

      I don’t like my unresponsive friends, so usually they are not ranked very high in terms of the imporance of them as my friends.
      If I really need something from someone for work, I will try to reach the person in every possible chanel.

  3. d

    I got big time cyber stood up. It hurt. We easily mended our friendship when she contacted me months later but it was a terrible feeling when it happened and when I get ignored those feelings all come back again. Trust is a delicate thing.

  4. I’m so guilty of e-mail lag time — sometimes because I purposely “unplug,” but mostly because between e-mails from students and colleagues (which are necessarily top priority), friend e-mails and newsletters creep rapidly to the nether regions of the inbox. I do respond to texts ASAP, though; something about an unanswered text (because of the built-in immediacy) stresses me out, whether I’m the sender or receiver.

    After reading this post, I resolve to be better!

  5. This drives me crazy too! I miss my summer camp pen pals from way back when. We wrote looong letters all year.

  6. Jen

    Yes, very timely! I am guilty of this, but ONLY after I’ve been stood up. I used to be great about getting back to people within a day or two, but when it took them another month to reply to MY reply, it’s like why bother? Especially when I am working full time, have a lot of other stuff going on and can dash off a quick email, while friends who SAH with school-aged children cannot reply. It’s not like they’ve got infants or toddlers running around. If the kids are gone for a chunk of the day, and I know you’re not volunteering or taking care of anyone else, what the hell are you doing!?!? It’s not like I’m asking you to take an hour to write me. I don’t get it, so then I take my time in replying (not 100% passive aggressive, but a little bit) and then the cycle perpetuates.

    Also, I find that the longer the email, the longer it takes me to reply. Maybe other people are like this too? When you haven’t communicated in awhile, you’ve got a ton of things to say, usually. So your email is long, then I have to read it, figure out what to say when I write back, because I do like to comment on every facet of one’s email. (Pet peeve: when people don’t grant me the courtesy of the same type of reply–not commenting much on what I’ve shared. I feel like half of my stuff is ignored at times!) When I’m emailing someone about next weekend’s plans, the messages back and forth quickly. I don’t know if it’s because the emails themselves are short, or if it’s because time is of the essence.

    Just as guilty with Facebook messages since they are pseudo-emails. Anyone else?

    This is only in my personal life. Work is a completely different story. I’m lucky that at work, I reply quickly and I am replied to just as quickly.

  7. My big problem is that I read the email on my phone, decide the response is too long/annoying to Swype in, and star it for later. And then I just never get back to it. I’m half tempted to STOP reading emails on my phone. Or maybe at least just marking them unread when I’m done.

  8. Yeah I get kind of hurt sometimes when I write a long personal email to someone and at first we were emailing back and forth, and then it just stops. I keep checking and checking and wondering what happened but I think sometimes people just don’t feel the need to respond to emails or don’t have the courtesy to write some sort of closing email or something. Or they write a short response back that wasn’t as thoughtful as your reply was, and you feel a little irritated because a lot of what you said was ignored it seems. I like email a lot and it’s good to keep in touch with friends, but it can be frustrating sometimes with the waiting and what not!

  9. Laurie Lee

    I’m generally pretty good with both email and text. If I can answer something immediately I do. If I’m busy I don’t. 10 years ago when a lot of people still phoned rather than email or text, I was sometimes bad at answering calls and returning them. Email and text has actually made me a more responsive communicator.

  10. openfan@gmail.com

    For Rachel, do you think you are more attracted to people who don’t respond to you?

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