Most people would argue that there are surely few things in this life worse than being left on read. Whether it’s an old friend, a new friend, an enemy or a lover – reading and not replying to messages constitutes a whole new level of power dynamics that Foucault would have had a field day over. Being left on read triggers a whole myriad of introspective questions, the majority of which are existential: why did I send that message? Why do I talk to this person anyway? Why am I even here? It also prompts a whole other list of resolutions, the majority of which can be summarised as: I will never text this person again (you will, of course, but that’s a different story).
We can all bond over our hatred of being left on read, but there is something far worse in this era of blue ticks and “message delivered” time stamps – the coward’s way out. Because the only thing worse than someone who has left you on read is someone who doesn’t have the decency to leave you on read.
I would be inclined to say that this is a relatively new phenomenon, but maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. And once I started noticing, I just couldn’t stop. I, a lifelong advocate against being left on read, was suddenly left craving that little circular picture underneath the blue message box, the one symbolising that your message was not funny or quirky or cool enough to warrant a reply.
That picture has come to represent closure, such that when taken away, a can of worms is opened. How long is acceptable to leave a message unopened? Who in their right mind could live a life of tens or even hundreds of messages read in the notification centre of their phone but never opened, never replied to, as if they never existed at all? These messengers are the Schrodinger’s cat of virtual communication, because you have no proof that they were ever read, despite the fact that said recipient has been infuriatingly active, and has even had the audacity to message into group chats, without ever opening your message. Besides, it’s been three weeks.
I would rather you unfriended me, blocked me and started a new life in Iceland rather than having the audacity to open and not reply to my messages weeks after it was sent
Maybe some justification could be made if this practice, this “art”, was only employed in the case of problematic messages, declarations of the heart that are unrequited, or admonishments for problematic behaviour that feel unjustified. But there is no excuse for the final message of a three-hour conversation to not be opened, nor a query regarding a time or location of a class or a talk. If you want me to miss my 11am complex analysis lecture because you don’t want to tell me if it’s on in the Lloyd or the Hamilton, that’s fine (if a bit weird). I’ll get over it. But just let me know you don’t want to help because I know you’ve seen the message. I know you’ve read it and chosen not to reply, and worse: chosen not to open it. And then when the message is opened a fortnight after its sent date – well, what’s the point of leaving me on seen then? That’s not a power play anymore, that’s a strategy game.
I would rather you unfriended me, blocked me and started a new life in Iceland rather than having the audacity to open and not reply to my messages weeks after it was sent. I don’t get a reply, and I don’t even get the thrill, that adrenaline hit of wondering whether you’re hated or feared, the bitter taste in your mouth acidic enough to erode teeth. I get all of the pain and none of the joy, none of the 3am post-night-out shit talk, accompanied by an eye roll and elegant wave of the hand: “I’m over it – he left me on read …”
Now, I will admit that perhaps some of those involved in this heinous behaviour don’t set out with the intention to ruin my life. I would even go so far as to say that some have the best of intentions. When calling out some friends before on this most problematic of habits, they tried to justify their sins by explaining that they didn’t open the message out of goodness – leaving it unopened meant that they were more likely to remember to reply later when they had the time.
But if you have time to laugh react to a meme in the course group chat that isn’t even that funny, you have the time to say “yes” or “no” to my message. I would even accept that dreaded big blue Facebook default thumbs up in the space of a message floating through the ether, never to experience every message’s dream: the dream and expectation of being opened.
These messengers are the Schrodinger’s cat of virtual communication, because you have no proof that they were ever read, despite the fact that said recipient has been infuriatingly active
And then it goes too far. People who leave messages unopened for weeks on end are probably sociopaths, and should be treated as such by complete isolation from society. If you can scroll through your messages and seem to have more unread than read then you need to sit down, take a deep breath and admit to yourself that you have a problem. People are entitled to time away from social media, but if you are communicating with others right before my eyes, just stop for a second and think about your actions.
It’s not that hard to leave me on read – people have been doing it regularly for years. I can ask those people to send some tips on, if that would help. And even though they are all terrible by virtue of not replying to my hot takes, cold takes and reheated-in-the-microwave takes, at least they’re being upfront about their despicable nature. So, if you’re going to be a bad person: accept it, own it and follow through with it, right to the bitter end. No need to hide under the pretence that you “were going to reply to it later” or that opening it “completely slipped your mind”. Stop taking the coward’s way out: please, I beg of you, leave me on read.