I was informed by an old friend, a Woman Named Jack, that my response to her text was so fast it was “almost creepy.” And by almost I’m pretty sure she meant “super.” She texted. My phone made a noise. I texted back. I thought I was being efficient. Little did I know that I was being creepy. What I considered to be fast and friendly service with a smile, she imagined as a messy-hair guy in terrycloth robe, hunched on a plaid recliner in a dark room, petting a dead cat with one hand, holding the phone in the other, waiting for a text–probably while listening to Tom Jones.
We want to help you avoid this situation. You don’t want people to respond to your messages like they are handfuls of raw chicken being delivered through their phones. In the future, an app will be developed to show you the facial expression of each recipient of your messages (if we don’t evolve out of expressions by then due to lack of physical interaction) . Until then, here’s your guide to textual response times.[Nota Bene: This advice does not apply to email, since the appropriate response time to that is one half hour after the second reminder email has been recieved. Then, you say “Sorry I missed your email. It must have gotten routed to the spam folder.” You commiserate about technology, and all is good. If you don’t get a second reminder, it wasn’t important. The advice also doesn’t apply to voicemail. The appropriate response time for voicemail is to wait until you get a text. Then follow the advice below.]
USPS: I used to respond at a rate approximately the same as snail mail–five to seven day turnaround. That was unpopular, too. Not creepy, but unpopular. The sweet spot (don’t use that expression ever) must be some place between the two extremes. If you practice this approach, the receiver will imagine that you are the sort of person who herds dinosaurs or chickens or something like that outside of the ice shanty you live in, deep in the woods–like so deep Amazon refuses to deliver to you. If this is the image you want, it is best to give up the phone altogether. At least that option gives you some street cred in the neo-Luddite movement.
FedEx: Though this approach is somewhat faster, it can still be measured in days. Days are the sorts of things we see on calendars. Calendars are the sorts of things charities send you in the mail. They can send them in the mail because the information they contain is useful for a year. Texts are not useful for a year. Calendars are the VCRs of time telling. Days are a drag. You can see why you would want to avoid sending texts like a FedEx package.
Domino’s: This is close, and it will work in most situations. You won’t be viewed as creepy, outdated, or uncaring–just a little busy, which is good. Depending on the sender, your Domino’s response might indicate that you’re in the shower (hygiene is great!), working hard at your desk (ha), temporarily in a no tower zone (with the ice shanty dinosaur herder), or taking a nap (naps are great!). Being busy means you aren’t needy. Needy is creepy. Having nothing to do is creepy. We’ve established that. Play that Tom Jones album again for full effect.
Here’s what you do. If you get a text, first ensure that you read it in a way that cannot be detected by the sender. Since there are a lot of sites with advice on how to read your messages on various apps without the sender knowing, reading too quickly must also be a social faux pas. Step two: order a pizza. When it comes, you tip handsomely and answer the text or IM. “Sorry I missed your text. I had to shower before the pizza got here.” You will be golden. Food and cleanliness are the opposite of creepy. Almost suave. You will be envisioned by the receiver as someone with glistening hair, sitting upright with a live cat on a leather sofa. This is good.
I did say most situations, though. If the person feels they are significant in your life, anything more than five minutes will be cause to send out an investigative team to follow you next time you leave the house. It will be someone like James Garner in the Rockford Files–friendly but persistent. Your phone will never be safe around that person again, since they will always be trying to swipe it to see who you’re texting rather than them. Still, don’t text immediately even to these significant humans. It may seem like you’re overcompensating for something.
To reiterate: 2-5 minutes for significants, 20-30 minutes for friends. Easy.
P.S. After the initial response, it is ok to respond as quickly as if you are engaged in old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. For references on how this works, please watch a couple old movies in which people sit at tables and talk.