Using Read Receipts Might Make You a Better Person
Of all the different tools and features we use to communicate virtually, read receipts might be one of the most contentious.
“I hate read receipts, especially with men I’m talking to,” says Sarah Solomon, an author based in New York. “It’s such a one-sided power move, like, ‘I’ve chosen to ignore you. Deal with it.’”
“If someone is going to read my text, but not respond to it, I don’t need to know about it,” says Rose London, a law clerk in St. Petersburg, Florida. “When I see that ‘read’ with no response, it’s like, well, fuck you too then.”
I have to admit that, while conducting some interviews for this piece via text message and Twitter DMs, I was beginning — for the first time, really — to feel anxious about my own use of read receipts. Here were these passionate haters of read receipts, generously sharing their thoughts with me only to, a few minutes later, see a little checkmark appear beneath their message when I’d finally gotten to it. I still, cautiously, employ read receipts, but for a lot of people, they’re probably better turned off where possible (that is, most platforms other than Facebook and Instagram); they’re stressful, intrusive, and offer little value or information that people actually want.
James Lynden, an innovation strategist in Berlin, conducted a small study on the impact of read receipts on conversations and their participants — the first, to his knowledge. The results were not in their favor.
“It’s hard to put a positive angle on them,” he says. “They spark anxiety for people. They stress people out, and often, actually, some people can feel a bit overwhelmed.” This is typically caused because people feel a duty to respond in a timely manner, he says.
Lynden’s study, which he conducted with co-author Teis Rasmussen and published in 2017 in the Journal of Media, Cognition, and Communication, found people frequently had negative responses to read receipts on apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and Snapchat. While some participants in the study had slightly positive feelings toward read receipts, more people…