Social Media

Relentless read receipts

As someone with a slight case of OCD about a tidy inbox, and as someone who also admits to being an eternal people pleaser, forgive me for the rant I’m about to take you on.

My main topic of conversation in the pub recently has been the unrelenting demands of communicating with people online.

If you send a private message on Facebook to someone or a group of people, recent changes mean you can now see when they’ve read it. It also tells you when they were last active on Facebook – so you can tell how much of an addict they are (the shame).

Similarly with Whatsapp, the two little ticks reveal the recipient of your message has seen it. You can also see if they are online and when they were last online (and therefore haven’t replied to you). It also even tells you when the other person is typing back to you, like on Facebook chat…so if you’re procrastinating about something witty to say and delete it a few times, the stop starting inevitably makes you look like an over-thinking idiot. I learnt this the hard way – carefully crafting a suitably funny / flirty reply, taking a while over it, posting it triumphantly then getting a sarcastic message back saying: “how many times did you have to rewrite that?”. Not cool.

I don’t have an iPhone, but I’m told this is now also the case with text messages. It not only tells you the text has been delivered, it also tells you the person has read it and at what time. Quite happy to stick with my crap Blackberry after all.

A journalist I follow on Twitter seems to share my opinions:


When I receive an email that asks for a read receipt, I instantly want to delete it in protest against the big brother style demands. The fact we can no longer get away with the old trusted excuse of “What message?” gets my goat.

In the name of a balanced argument, I suppose it can be functional if you’re using it to coordinate meeting times or sharing documents for work. But we don’t use these networks for that. When it comes to messages and chat, I just find it creepy. Especially the fact that you can see the name of the town or city from which the message has been sent if you’re location enabled.  What if I’ve told someone I’m in Leeds when actually I’m in London?

The amount of conversations I have about the non-dedication of friends / boyfriends / dates has gone up immeasurably. A friend organising her hen do on Facebook is freaking out that one of the hens hasn’t replied that they are coming, yet has seen the message two days ago. It’s causing a ruck. Another friend in the dating game is literally going round the bend with this whole new dimension to game playing. Before you could reason that the text had got lost in the ether, that he’d lost his phone, that he’d gone to work and left it at home. But nope, not now – read receipts are plotting to kill us and turn us all into psychos.

They’re showing us all up. And also making me have an untidy inbox, and I hate them for that. Before I’d jump at the bleep of a message, look forward to seeing who it was from, read it and delete it so my inbox was tidy again. Now I purposefully avoid opening it because as soon as I do, I’ll have to reply right there and then or face the wrath of the sender. My lack of friendship and participation will be recognised, as if Facebook will tell them, “Nina read this five times without responding.”

They are a manipulative, crafty method for pressuring us into using technology, ALL OF THE TIME. They’re making conversation a forced interaction, when it most definitely shouldn’t be like that. It’s a power trip for instant communication – how much faster can we all go?!

Or, are they just encouraging us to be more efficient, upfront and honest and learn the practised art of being patient?

The over-riding conclusion from people I’ve spoken to is that it’s putting them off social media altogether.

I get that smart, learning-informed technology and apps lead to a better digital experience – but a little mystery and privacy would be nice, wouldn’t it? Maybe I have self-diagnosed read receipt-induced anxiety disorder. Whatever it is, it’s made me come off Facebook, shy away from Whatsapp and phone people more. God, how did we all forget that face-to-face / ear-to-ear conversations are so much more simple and effective?