Has a world of urgency left no time for unavailability?
Technology has helped create a world that is more connected than ever before. At any given time you can see what your friends, or enemies are doing, even if you don’t really care. You can chat with others in an instant by dropping a them a quick message on social media platforms or on your phone.
In some ways, this is amazing. If you told your ancestors that one day you could send a message to someone as soon as you thought of them, they would think it was magic. It does sometimes feel like magic. The world seems a smaller place and you can keep in touch with people you may never see in real life again. Family members who live around the world can catch up without effort and you can talk to people you have been too busy to see at any time.
Unfortunately, the same technology has also created a world in which anything other than immediacy is inexcusable. Just because we can connect and message other people instantly, doesn’t mean we have to. It doesn’t mean we are obliged to keep in touch with those we love all the time. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to make the effort to truly connect by switching off our phones and looking people in the eyes.
What if we have created a generation of people who cannot respect other people’s boundaries when it comes to communication and availability? People seem less tolerant, less patient and less focused than ever before. No one waits for anything because they don’t have to. If you can order an item that can be delivered tomorrow, then there is no reason why someone can’t reply to your message straight away. If you can watch an entire TV series without having to wait to watch the next episode, then anyone can get back to you instantly.
Everyone expects to be able to get hold of others at all times. They’re at work… “well they can still reply on their lunch hour. It takes minutes.” They’re out with others… “well they can still reply – everyone else will be checking their phones. If they truly cared, they would make the time to reply.”
The world we live in has no place for those who don’t reply within an expected time, even when messages aren’t urgent or important. Everyone has their phone on them all the time and you will be held accountable for not responding quickly enough.
The thing is, you can truly care about what someone you love has to say to you in their message and still not respond for a day or two. You can be interested in what your friends say in the group chat but not keep up with the constant messaging fast enough. Some people need time to process the world. It can take up a lot of energy and mental space to sit down, digest a message and draft a thoughtful reply.
I don’t want to message people back without thinking about what they’ve said to me. I don’t want to feel guilty about not responding fast enough and reply out of fear. I don’t want to feel anxious because I know I need to respond but can’t find the energy to do so. If it means waiting a few days for a caring and well thought out response then that’s going to have to be okay.
People are allowed to be unavailable. People are allowed to put in boundaries that protect their space. They may have not replied because they are busy. They may have not replied because other things are being prioritised. Or they may have not replied because they need time and space and don’t want to be available right now. This needs to be respected and is a valid reason for a delayed response.
This urgent world isn’t allowing for boundaries that are healthy and vital in forming meaningful relationships. Technology can connect us, but coupled with a lack of patience and understanding for personal availability and space, it could tear us apart too.
– Lydia Hextell
– Alex Allcock (Illustration)