Last night, I was picking through the junk drawer that is my Hotmail inbox. I do this every time I remember that I have a Hotmail account. This is about four times a year.
Sandwiched between a sale offer from Anthropologie and a Turner Classic Movies newsletter was a note from my high school English teacher. She had sent a group message to my old public speaking team, using our braces-and-plaid-skirt era emails. Would anyone be home to judge a Forensics meet this weekend?
Yesterday — over a month later — I emailed her back, using my Gmail account. I sheepishly explained how “rsdv2” is in its semi-retirement phase. Please send everything to this address from now on, etc.
This is an exception. Normally, I’m not that bad about replying to things. I check my Gmail every day. More often than not, I’m being contacted by Amazon or Sephora. Sometimes professors. But mostly Sephora.
This morning, I woke up to a cheery, clever message from my former teacher. I was reminded how her emails are exactly what I strive for in electronic correspondence — original, thoughtful, witty — and always prompt.
That’s when I realized that I need to streamline my online presence. Because, whether I like it or not, every account I have is a virtual me. Real me is pretty well-mannered. Virtual me is a little standoffish.
While letting things sit in an outdated account is one thing, waiting to reply to something when I don’t have to is another.
Emailing is not that hard, in theory. Neither is texting. And, if we’re going to get really college-centric about this, Facebook messaging and G-chatting both require even less effort. So why is it that so many of us put off getting back to people?
As my editor said in a pre-writing chat, you wouldn’t just pause for 20 minutes, or two days, in the middle of an in-person conversation. So why do we do that over digital rapport?
I’m not sure, but I do. I really do. Maybe it’s a tendency that comes with general procrastination or personality. It’s likely a combination of both.
One of the lies I tell myself about my correspondence lag is that I’ll have more time to think about what to say if I wait — I’ll mull it over and my message will be all the more interesting for it.
But anyone who’s ever put off a reply knows that’s not true. You just forget about it, and then when you remember, you slap something together that conveys a sense of how swamped and sorry you are, even if you’re not.
Sometimes, you just don’t want to talk to the sender. Sometimes, you feel a sense of power by ignoring them. Sometimes, you look at a message when you’re half asleep and don’t remember it until a week later. And sometimes, you just don’t want anyone knowing you check your phone that often.
A good amount of the time though, I’m holding out for the real thing. I like talking to people in person. I like inflection and expressions and funny voices.
But I realize that if I want to keep in touch with, say, my sister in Michigan, I have to stoop to virtual modes of communication. So there will be a lazily written Facebook message here or there, a lengthy text and then a very chatty reunion.
In order to be a functioning member of society, a twentysomething needs to have an email, a phone and maybe a Facebook. And that’s fine, I guess. But I feel like over the last few years, I’ve started to resent the duty with which I’m expected to tend to each of these virtual extensions of myself.
Maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon. I don’t really like having all my modes of contact in my pocket all day. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check my iPhone at the end of every class. This is the millennial’s dilemma.
I’m fully aware of how easily solved and frilly this problem is. Just reply — quickly. And all guilt will be gone. Which is why I’ve resolved, for the new year, to be a better communicator in the virtual world.
I’ve passed the two week mark with moderate success.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.