Sunday, 21 July 2019

Must I Always Be Available?

When social media makes it hard to get away, sometimes it's good to switch off.

There are probably hundreds of posts out there these days about having a break from social media. I don't blame anyone who feels this way, in fact, I've felt it myself. Nowadays there is a constant expectation that we must always be switched on and readily available to each other for instant responses and interactions. It's a landscape of 'last online' times and read receipts. Worse still, we torment ourselves with stories about why our recipients haven't answered; they're ignoring me, they forgot about me or too busy for me. Reality is they're probably working, with family, on the bog or just having some alone time – none of which is a crime, therefore their late response is not worthy of punishment with a 'k.'

I'll be the first to admit that I am that guilty pal who can leave it a minimum 48 hours before replying to a facebook message, WhatsApp or text. Sometimes a week. Sometimes months. Usually for reasons listed above or sometimes I genuinely do forget. Is it a reflection on my relationship with my loved ones? Not really. I've never believed it means I don't care about them. The fact I remember to respond a little later actually suggests the opposite. When life got busy and then calmed down, I thought of them. That to me always means more than a convenient quick reply.

Busy is a funny ol' word. I've always maintained that no one is ever truly busy, we just have priorities. I still believe this to be true. Has social media really made us so self-obsessed that we can't imagine why our friends, colleagues and loved ones could be too busy to answer us immediately? Do we really expect to be everyone's number 1 priority? In the modern world, everything is moving faster than ever with instant replies and longer, faster productivity needs at work – if you're not stressed and working free overtime, are you even working? This, in turn, means our time is more precious than ever and with the emergence of self-care actually having to be a thing because we're all forgetting to take care of ourselves instead of answering an email, this has never been more clear. As an introvert, self-care counts as busy and is vital for me to actually function. Sometimes when you've had a long day all you want to do is to have the world go quiet, slump down in front of Netflix and forget about everything else. That nagging ping in your pocket is the last thing you want to hear.

My relationship with online messaging is complex. I often feel I should be grateful that I have brilliant pals who see a picture of a cat and think of me. But as an independent introvert, if the messages are all day every day, it just gets a bit much. Over the last few months, perhaps even all my life since the advent of smartphones and social media, I've deigned to be constantly reachable. I actually enjoy waiting to respond to others – it gives me time to gather my thoughts for longer messages, something to look forward to, but most importantly, I wait to give them the response and attention they deserve, rather than a slap-dash, misspelt, misread mess of a reply. What's more, in classic backwards logic style, the more someone pushes me for an answer, the less I'm willing to give it. Wanna angrily nag me by email for a response at work when it's been 15 minutes since your last one? No Angela, you can wait until you're at the top of MY priority list AFTER the meeting I'M STILL IN, athanku. If a pal wants to bombard me with messages and memes every few hours and then get shirty because I didn't answer with a crying emoji yet, I will leave you on read or worse, mute yo ass. Can't help it; the more you push, the more I resist. It's the rule. As such, I've always tried to be patient and treat others' responses to me with the same respect. I trust that they're working through their priorities and eventually I'll make my way to the top.

Something I often think of is what we did before mobile phones. When I was younger, I remember calling my grandparents on a Sunday evening in the 90s and if there was no immediate answer, I left a message. My mum would have catchups with her friends on the landline that often started as a back and forth message on the answering machine, and when they finally caught up at the same time, the first question always was 'are you free to talk?'. If we sent postcards or letters, we knew there was a few days delay for a response, we never got so mad about it then, right? Apparently, it doesn't take two seconds to send a text and while that's true if the question is simple – eg. when my mum is checking I'm still alive at uni every day – I'd always rather wait for a decent response. Just because you can do something quickly and easily doesn't mean you should. Perhaps it's more of a reflection of ourselves if we're so quick to assume we're no longer liked when the recipient doesn't answer instantly. Is it a sign of strength when we can be apart and out of touch for months, only to have it resume as comfortable and connected as we were when we're reunited? I hope so.

Until then, no I won't always be available and dammit Angela, you'll just have to wait.

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