Why We Ignore Digital Communications

By / Feb 2, 2018 (MissTuni/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

In the age of instant communication, why are people taking their sweet time to get back to us?

We all have our smartphones nearby all the time. And nearly everyone should be seeing your personal or professional texts and emails as soon as you send them. Given that, why does it seem like it’s harder and harder to hear back from people?

And add to it that when people don’t respond right away, it can provoke an uncomfortable, antsy feeling.

“It’s anxiety-inducing because written communication is now designed to mimic conversation—but only when it comes to timing,” Julie Beck writes in a thoughtful piece for The Atlantic. We often expect instantaneous responses, and when we don’t get them, it leaves us feeling stressed out.

But the truth is, as much as we often appreciate the on-demand nature of digital communications, texts and emails simply do not carry a sense of obligation the way phone calls or face-to-face interactions do.

“Written instant messages create a smokescreen of plausible deniability if someone doesn’t feel like responding, which can be relieving for the hider, and frustrating for the seeker,” says Beck.

So, why aren’t people responding to texts and emails right away? They don’t feel like they have to. “Just because people know how stressful it can be to wait for a reply to what they thought would be an instant message doesn’t mean they won’t ignore others’ messages in turn.

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a publication of the American Society of Association Executives.

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