Are bad texters bad people?

Jonas DoerrOpinions Columnist

You see the message on your phone. Someone is asking about your availability this week to get maple bacon vegan donuts. Hmm. To go, or not to go?

Better not to choose. You put your phone aside and decide to answer it later.

Are you a bad person now?

It’s easy to get an email or text and put off answering it. One might feel mild pangs of guilt, but the anxiety is nothing compared to having to actually answer an ambiguous message. Or so one might think.

Maybe one gets around to answering the text eventually. It just takes a couple of days. “I’m just a bad texter,” is the common excuse. Bad texter? No. Bad person? We shall see.

The standards for response times differ based on the medium. Phone calls, texts, emails, and chat messages all have different expectations behind them for how quickly one should respond.

A phone call from a Gen Zer is usually urgent. There is probably some level of desperation and urgent need to cause a phone call. Talk to someone live with no video? Aside from 8 a.m. Zoom classes, that’s unthinkable!

Since phone calls are often urgent, they should be answered as quickly as possible. If you miss the first call, call back as soon as possible or let them know when you can call back. Of course, there are exceptions; if you know your friend is at heart still in the 20th century and loves phone calls, take your time.

Emails are the opposite. Many emails don’t require any response. The ones that do can usually wait at least one or two days. Waiting a week or more is, however, a definite no-no. Most people will appreciate a faster response, but don’t trip over yourself hurrying to choose the best Gmail auto-response.

Texts and chats are the scary gray area. How long is too long? How fast is too fast?

Most people have been in the situation of seeing a text right away. They think it would be a bit creepy to immediately answer, so they wait a little bit. A few minutes and then an hour goes by. With every second the chore of answering that text seems more painful. It can wait another day. Week. Month. At this point, why bother, right? Just ghost them!

Maybe, for you, it doesn’t get this bad. But many people struggle with this at some point. When is the right time to answer?

Answer when you see the text, or when it’s next convenient. The other person will appreciate it, and it will be one little piece of stress off your chest.

One might wonder: “If I answer too fast, will they think I’m interested?” “Isn’t the best way to seduce someone by making them hang on my every word?”

Don’t overthink, and don’t seduce people. The other person is probably thinking harder about how you are perceiving their messages than vice versa. And it’s much better to fall in love naturally than to be creepy and “seduce” someone.

But if someone ignores these guidelines and keeps someone hanging, are they a bad person?


There are some circumstances when it’s ok to answer slowly. A group chat or a general check-in message will wait. If you’re taking an electronics break, take your time. Just answer when you’re back. If someone is being abusive, by all means step away, block them, and find help if needed.

Otherwise, the bad answerer is bad. They aren’t a bad person – people can’t be easily thrown into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ boxes – but that action is wrong. Answering a text poorly causes harm to another human being.

That person has to undergo the emotional discomfort of wondering if their friend cares enough to answer them. They have to stress about whether their plans will work out. In extreme circumstances, they might even shed a tear that falls straight into the crack in their screen protector, into their phone, and straight onto the battery, zapping them and knocking them unconscious for an hour.

Don’t do that to your friends!

There are three bad reasons a person might have to overcome to be a more ethical texter. The first bad reason is laziness.

The effort of sending a text might seem like too much work for a person. It might seem silly, but opening that message and thinking of a reply can seem like a lot, especially when the texts pile up. However, that’s not a good enough reason for a friend to get zapped. Open those texts and answer them!

The second bad reason is that one might think it’s no big deal. Just because the other person is not allowed to seem annoyed at a long wait time for a response does not mean that it doesn’t matter to them. Open those texts and answer them!

The last bad reason is that, to some extent, our culture promotes social cowardice. It can seem better to avoid a disagreement than tell someone how we really feel. It might seem better to pretend to like a person than address the issues one has. But avoiding conflict only creates a stressful mini-Cold War.

The only way to combat this cowardice is to be direct. Say how you feel. Social tact is not avoiding touchy subjects; it’s addressing them in a sensitive manner. Take on those issues lurking in your inbox head-on, and redefine who you are.

You can be a good texter!

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