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Async Texting
posted -

For the past 8 years I have had a vague dislike of texting/messaging as a form of communication. Over the past 4 years I've come to explicitly think of myself as someone who doesn't like texting. Recently, I've been in a long distance relationship and have been giving a lot more thought to how I like to communicate, and finding better ways to meet both my and my partners communication needs.

Problems with texting

I notice that I default to thinking that other people's expectations on the shared norms of texting are, "Basically normal in-person conversation norms, but you get more leeway on how long you can not respond before I feel like you're ignoring me."

Most importantly, I get a sense that I'm expected to "maintain the conversation" and respond to all of the things that the other person has said to me.

This means that the more someone texts me, the more effort it takes to text back, since I have to respond to all the things they've said. If the queue gets a bit backlogged, then replying to them begins to feel like this big chore, and I have to wait till I can get a big chunk of time to think about all of the things they've said.

I end up in situations where there are several times throughout the day where I had several minutes I could have replied to someone's text, but because I felt like I had to follow conversational norms and address all they've been saying, I don't respond, because I can't do all that thinking in 7 minutes.

Eventual it gets to a point where I don't even remember what the communication was about, and there's just a obligatory feeling of "Man, I need to reply to so-and-so at some point". Which is crazy. Communicating with someone I care about has inadvertently become a blob-like chore that just have to get done at some point.

So if that's the big problem, what's my solution?

Async Texting: My working solution

Here's a stream of consciousness paragraph to get across the main attitude of this style.

This is not a conversation. This is both of us placing discrete chunks of communication into a shared pool of awareness. When I put something in the pool, I won't be sitting expecting a reply, unless otherwise specified. We will add our thoughts and reactions to things in the pool as we have them, and as we have time. There is no intended order that thinking about things in the pool has to happen in, unless explicitly stated.

A few quick nuggets to add:

Meta-tags: using one-two word tags at the beginning of a text to give info about what you were thinking, or how you want the other to interpret the text

Discrete chunks and direct reply: Signal messenger has a great feature where you can reply to a specific text. This, combined with breaking your texts into discrete chunks of ideas/feelings/expressions makes it really easy to be super clear about what things in the pool you are building on in your reply.

Jump to the point: Since this isn't a conversation, you don't have to think about how to make what you want to say relevant to where the current conversation is. Just cut to the point where you say what you want to say.

Another great effect of this style; there's low resistance to bringing up important or interesting conversation you want to have. Sometimes I notice a feeling of, "If I bring this up now, we'll have to talk about it now, and I don't have the time/energy to do that, so I'll just mention it later." What happens a lot under that plan is that you forget. And that just means you'll end up having less important and interesting communication with the other person. Now I feel totally fine bring up a thing for later, adding a “Seed” tag, and I know the other person won’t feel an “oh shit, this has to happen now” either.

A general thought in this style is, “How can I better equip the person I’m talking with to communicate with me how I would like?”

Moral of the Story: Meta-communicate your needs!

I previously had thought that I just didn't like texting, and that I wouldn't be able to maintain regular contact with people I really liked who I didn't see regularly in person. I imagined that if I wanted to be in a long distance relationship, it would mean taking on the colossal burden of having to communicate through text.

Contrast that to now, where I'm in a long distance relationship with someone I text quite a lot, with almost no added cognitive drag, drain on my ability to focus, or amorphous "ugg" feelings. Which I find pretty wild.

So I did write this post as a "Here's this style of texting that has really worked for me" but way more important than my specific style is the meta-process of talking to someone about how best to communicate with them. Though I'm unsure if you (whoever you are) would benefit from async texting, I'm quite confident that you'd benefit from sitting down and thinking about how you communicate. Super quick list of questions to ask yourself if you actually sit down and do this:

So go forth, and get better at enjoying the dope people in your life!