the last respondent hypothesis

Being an introspective person, I’d like to think that I’m reasonably good at noticing patterns in my thoughts and actions. One observation I’ve made relates to texting (and other forms of sending short messages to other people).

Before I delve into this, a bit of background: some time ago (months? years? I couldn’t tell you), I observed that, when communicating to a friend via SMS, I tend to feel “better” (in a general sense) if my text is answered by the recipient, regardless of the length (or brevity) or the content (as long as the content isn’t negative).

Of course, I know that not everyone will agree with this – I’ve heard enough people complaining about those who will reply to a message with a quick “OK” or “lol” or something seemingly pointless. I, on the other hand, appreciate that the recipient has read my message and responded. (But if I’m low on battery, I’ll probably also wonder if it was worth it for me to unlock my phone just to read that one word.)

Often, people will send messages that don’t require a response. I do that too. However, depending on the message and the recipient, I can feel a bit put out if there’s no reply. (It’s even worse when the message kind of does need a reply, but they just don’t send one.)

So, linking back to my observation from “some time ago”, I hypothesised that maybe other people experience this too – perhaps not consciously (I’m sure not everyone overthinks things as much as I do) but on some subconscious level. However, rather than testing this hypothesis as such, I kind of just decided to act on it. (Side note: Perhaps it’s all my years of schooling in Sciences and Humanities, but I quite like the word “hypothesis”. It’s nice to have an opportunity to use it again.)

This has meant that, in the majority of short message correspondences that I’ve had over the last however-long-since-I-made-this-hypothesis, I’ve tried to be the last respondent, so that others are not left with that empty feeling of sending a message into the void and not hearing anything back.

Of course, there are times when the other person’s response does not require an answer at all and/or is clearly marking the end of that conversation, so I just don’t reply. But I’d like to think that I’m the last respondent in the majority of cases (unless I just plain forget to reply (which happens) or I’m just too tired/exhausted to muster up the effort required to coordinate my thumbs over the tiny keyboard on my phone (which also happens)).

As a result of all this, I, myself, have sent lots of messages that do not require a reply, or that hint at some sort of finality, so that the recipient does not feel obliged to continue the conversation. Of course, I’m usually happy to keep messaging as long as the other person is (and as long as I’ve still got enough battery to last the rest of the day). This “last respondent” policy has thus led to a few interesting conversations with others who seem to have adopted the same policy.

I’m now realising that this is a very long “background” into the observation that I was actually going to write about from paragraph #1… and the “background” is probably going to make up the vast majority of this post… but, oh well~!

Having sent and received more messages since acting on my texting hypothesis than what I have in the time before that (I can only assume this is true, since I don’t have a solid timeline for when I started this, or any other solid data for that matter), I have been able to make the following observation of my texting habits: I don’t tend to have a set conversation style, but will adapt to and reflect the style displayed by my correspondent.

Probably the most obvious example of this is in paragraphing: some people will write everything in one long message, some will send each line/sentence as a separate message. One lovely friend will usually separate different points into paragraphs within the one message so that the distinction between the different points is clear but you’re also not getting quick-fire alert notifications (which tend to make me want to switch my phone to silent with “vibrate” off). For all of these people, and people in between, I will tend to match their paragraphing style. I noticed this from messaging said lovely friend and my sister (who tends to send a line or two per message – short and sharp).

Other things that I may reflect include a person’s propensity toward using emoticons and abbreviations, such as “lol” or “omg”; and, similarly, the level of casual-ness/facetiousness or formality.

However, something that I never compromise on (unless I’m in a rush and/or too tired) is spelling and grammar. I mean, I wouldn’t want my message to be misread or misunderstood. What if they don’t reply? I’ll just never know what they thought I meant!