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Rethinking read receipts

Screen shot of a read receipt. It says "Seen 9:18am" with a big gray checkmark next to it
My read receipts are more like “Seen 4:18am.”

I turned on “read” notifications for all my text messages.

For years I saw “read receipts” as a privacy issue. It was no-one’s business, I figured, whether or not I saw their text message or email. Plus, if I kept my reading or not reading hidden, I could keep the “I didn’t see it” excuse in my back pocket, able to be pulled out like a yellow card in foul territory.

I asked my crowd online what they thought about my move. Almost everyone expressed their “HELL NO” stance on turning on read receipts. The major sentiment was that no sender was owed the information of whether or not we’ve read their message.

Granted, some senders shouldn’t get that information. Companies that send marketing texts and emails, for example, should not be given even more data for free. I’m not a big fan of email newsletters for many reasons, one of them being it’s not clear on whether or not I can turn off the “opened” notification sent back to the sender and their newsletter vendor. While I understand the marketer’s need for that data, I am just not interested in being exploited in that way.

But the other day I was texting my college kid and I thought about the personal value in read receipts. Knowing what I’ve seen and what I haven’t can be really helpful to her. Then I thought about everyone I text. Why wouldn’t I let them know what I’ve seen and what I haven’t? Because I want to avoid answering them? I mean, that’s usually the answer for us texters, right? We want more time before we respond. We want a day or two to pass so whatever it is fades away or has less of an edge to it. (This is silly, of course. Everyone has seen our text messages.)

When it comes to work, read receipts can be oppressive. Work messages are locked in some sort of precipitous dance of power between colleagues. I get that. But for personal messages, what power balance are we trying to tip? I can’t see treating my loved ones as the opposing force in a text danse macabre. If a relationship is such that I am waltzing through a minefield, I will certainly address that situation with more deliberate moves than hiding behind texts or dodging emails.

We can set read receipts per individual. On the iPhone, you can find the setting under the “i” icon which sits under the sender’s photo and name at the top of the text message window. Scroll down to the bottom and you can turn read receipts on or off.

black circle against white background. inside the circle is a lower case I in italics. It symbolizes the "information" page

Android phones have defaults to set for all messages, but I’m not sure if the setting drills down to individuals like it does on the iPhone. Building individual settings for everyone you communicate with may not sound like fun to you. It doesn’t sound like fun to me either. For now I’m defaulting everyone to receive read receipts. This, to me, is living deliberately. It is being honest and transparent with people who deserve that from me.

So. Now you know. If you don’t see “Read” under my texts, you and I probably need to talk.

Header image from HowtoGeek.com and i symbol from Google search