How the Facebook Message Seen Feature Changes Communication
Recently, Facebook introduced a feature that allows you to see when someone’s viewed one of your messages. It’s basically a read receipt for Facebook messages, except that the other person doesn’t have to agree to send it to you. There’s no polite Outlook pop-up saying, “The sender of this message has requested a read receipt. Do you want to send a receipt?” With Facebook, you don’t have a choice about sending a message seen receipt – it happens automatically.
Facebook’s new feature lets you know that your message has been viewed, but that’s not the same thing as saying that your message has been read. My Facebook sends messages directly to my phone, my computer, and my iPad – at least two of which are usually within a few feet of me at any given time (yes, even when I’m in bed). The screens flash at me when I have a message, which usually (especially if I’m tired) causes me to mash my fingers around the nearest screen until the blinking stops. In Facebook’s mind (let’s just admit that Facebook is sentient and get over it), I’ve viewed the message and it can go ahead and alert the other person to the fact that their message has been read. But in reality, all I’ve done is the digital equivalent of hitting my alarm clock until it stops ringing. To continue the metaphor, it doesn’t mean that I’m actually awake or getting out of bed.
Because of my “OMG will you please stop blinking!” fumblings, a lot of my Facebook friends probably get alerted to the fact that I’ve viewed their messages when that’s not actually the case. And then they might wonder why I’m not responding when I don’t even know that I have something that I’m supposed to respond to. (Cause, clearly, they just moon around waiting for responses from me all day, right?)
Aside from people waiting for a response to messages that I don’t know about, there are also the people waiting for responses to messages that I do know about but that I’m, for one reason or another, choosing not to respond to at this time. Sometime it’s a message from a friend that deserves a thoughtful response, not something I can swipe on my phone at a red light. (Not that I would ever do that…) Other times it’s an invitation that I’m not sure I want to accept. Still other times it’s a message from a creepy guy at the gym to which I will never respond. (Ah, the joys of being the new girl in a small town.)
I don’t like the idea of people thinking that I’m choosing not to respond to them, even if it is true. I want the plausible deniability that the invitation got lost in the mail, or “Gee, sorry, I didn’t see that I had a missed call and you know I never check my voice mails.” I don’t want to be obligated to acknowledge or respond to every communication that I receive. I know that message seen receipts don’t force me to respond, but they make me look like a bitch if I don’t do so. And, I don’t really need any help in the looking bitchy department.
My personal reputation aside, instant delivery confirmation changes something fundamental about communication. There’s romance in waiting for your message to be delivered, in the anticipation of a response. There’s something offputting about the instant gratification of digital communication and about the way that it coerces you into instantly gratifying your correspondents.
My reactions to this are both high minded and low, but I’m not the only one reacting to it. Although Facebook’s chat and message FAQs don’t include information on the topic, Yahoo Answers and the Facebook help section are riddled with users asking how to disable message seen alerts. Unfortunately, as of yet, there’s no way to disable the feature. So I guess, for the time being, we’re all stuck with being a little too honest about the fact that we ignore our friends… or maybe just about the fact that we sleep with our cell phones.
Questions of the day: What do you think about Facebook’s message seen feature? Does it bother you? If so, are the reasons why high minded or low?
Formerly MaggieCakes, Maggie (not Margaret) covers technology’s impact on culture, specifically on how we interact or connect with each other. Have a question or an idea you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment, or send me an e-mail: moc.teragramtoneiggam@eiggam