Why I might not text you back right away

By RUDY MALCOM | February 15, 2018


This article had the potential to be the most stereotypically millennial thing I’ve ever written, aside from a caption I came close to posting on my finsta at 2 a.m. last week, in which I called the latest Snapchat update a sensory overload and a grossly inefficient redesign. (Seriously, kids, don’t download it.) 

Although I was admittedly sleep-deprived and enraged when I wrote it, for me to compare the new version of a mobile app to a crime against humanity, as I did, was inexcusable. Needless to say, not being able to easily view a half-acquaintance’s Snapchat story pales Snapchat-ghost-white in comparison with genocide, and if you think otherwise, you might actually be the phone-addicted crybaby that older generations make us millennials out to be. 

However, that being said, technology has generated some real issues, and we millennials are not being snowflakes when we react to them.

Technology has allowed interpersonal communication to be readily available at our thumbprints. Not only can the App Store ruin something perfectly good that really didn’t need fixing by automatically updating our social media (it’s fine, I’m fine, truly), but our friends can update us with screenshots of messages from Tinder matches, with links to songs, with YouTube videos we must check out or with memes that are painfully relatable.

More significantly, our friends can also update us with their problems. Hyperconnectivity has transformed us into impromptu pseudo-therapists, whose patients can drop in 24/7. Like it or not, simply by glancing at our notifications, we often assume the responsibility of offering comfort and advice — not necessarily with the qualifications to do so. 

I should mention that Hopkins offers resources, such as A Place to Talk (APTT) and the Counseling Center. We can go to APTT and receive listening sessions from peer listeners trained in empathetic and active listening skills and crisis intervention, with whom we can discuss anything, from mundane frustrations to serious concerns. 

We can address our mental health needs and receive emotional support, assistance and professional help from psychotherapists at the Counseling Center.

Regardless, without training, we are still frequently pseudo-therapists. This is, of course, definitely not always a bad thing. The phenomenon is, to a large degree, a component of healthy interpersonal relationships. Within seconds we can flip the metaphorical office: The pseudo-therapist becomes the patient, the patient the pseudo-therapist.

Yet we cannot be engaged virtual listeners or committed advisors all the time. As Hopkins students and as human beings in general (the two categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, except in the case of some snakey pre-meds), there exist numerous demands on our time, cognitive abilities and emotions. Frankly, we have our own shit with which we must deal.  

“Selfishness is putting your wants over the needs of others, while self-respect is putting your needs over the wants of others,” Courtney Brand writes on her lifestyle blog The B Werd. But how do we define putting our needs over the needs of others?

I cannot and will not answer that question. But very simply, although we are fundamentally perhaps always our own top priorities, being interdependent social creatures entails that we must self-sacrifice for the sake of others. And yes, one can argue that technological advances distance us from real-life interaction, but undeniable and unprecedented connection with one another through our phones has amplified this need. 

We are empathic. I’m not going to get into whether or how much this ability is taught or innate, but I don’t think we should feel socially obligated to concern ourselves with other people’s shit. We shouldn’t be able to not care. And although someone’s self-worth or emotional stability shouldn’t hinge upon the quality of another person’s response, it can feel like you’re being trivialized when you get a half-assed text back. 

For whatever reason, unread notifications cause me undue stress — particularly text messages and snaps. As a result, I’ve gained, for better or worse, a reputation from my high school and college peers alike for being an almost instantaneous responder. (If I open a message, I’ll forget to respond.) 

Someone once told me that I “display excellent texting etiquette.” I do always want to be there for my friends, but I would suffer emotionally and academically if this were the case. 

Consequently, when I must do work, I sometimes leave my phone in my room and head to Brody. Yes, we already know that D-level inherently does this, but in any of Brody’s cubicles, without my phone I can unplug from society. I can focus only on my shit — this article, for instance. I can leave some of my other shit behind in my room, too. 

Then, when I come back, I can offer a wholly justified explanation for my absence and answer, not half-assedly, but instead — pardon my millennial neologism — thicc-assedly. 

So, please know that if it seemingly randomly takes five hours for me to respond to your snap: No, I did not vanish into the ether. I just care about you.

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