Stress induced messaging has been a topic of concern since the very start of text messaging. From the moment we send a message – SMS, iMessage, or Facebook Message – anxiety waiting for the response begins; anxiety caused by bubbles – those bubbles that indicate when a person is in the process of writing a response. An interesting part of this anxiety is that the person you are waiting for a response from isn’t necessarily one you are particularly anxious around in person. However, waiting for those little bubbles and what is to come after them is nonetheless a stressful experience. Jessica Bennett’s article, “Bubbles Carry a Lot of Weight: Texting Anxiety Caused by Little Bubbles,” discusses the legitimacy of this issue that many seem to brush off as normal, or as a personal issue that no one else is experiencing.
Bennett brings in the perspective of her therapist, pointing out that it’s not the actual text messages, but the time between text messages that is causing all the ruckus. She brings in personal observation from texting in high-stake conversations that I am personally, and I’m sure many others are, well aware of. In these exchanging moments of high stress, we wait for the bubbles to pop up, or wait for them to stop – showing we are either receiving the message or receiving nothing at all. Bennett brings Washington writer Maryam Abolfazli, a specialist in the topic, to light – her observation stating, “The three dots shown while someone is drafting a message in iMessage is quite possibly the most important source of eternal hope and ultimate letdown in our daily lives…It’s the modern-day version of watching paint dry, except you might be broken up with by the time the dots deliver.” Sociologists study the way new technology affect the brain, in that we are constantly craving the adrenaline rush of constant stream communication and are in fear of missing out.
The iPhone “awareness indicator” is also described as “a curious beast” by University of California, Irvine’s professor Paul Dourish, who studies the intersection of technology and society; “it conveys that something is being done, but it won’t say what.” The curiosity in this build-up of online communication gives way to a power over us that we simply can’t avoid, as long as we keep texting. Bennett brings us back to the roots of typing awareness starting in the 1990s, reminding us of the old AOL Buddy List that alerted us simply when a friend signed on or off. When, nowadays, with the multi-faceted ways to contact someone, there really is no such thing as being “offline.” Sure your phone can die, you can leave it at home, or not have access to the Internet – but in more cases than not, there is often some way to reach someone. Blackberry was the first big company to bring in the “delivered, “read, and ”so and so is typing” with BBM (Blackberry Messenger). Two years after this, Apple introduced the iPhone with SMS and four years after that, iMessage, which completely shifted all aspects of messaging and online communication.
Bennett highlights the many forms of text-bubble anxiety, that I see extremely relevant to everyday activity in both the online and offline society today, stating:
- Text bubble of the highly charged emotional conversation (also known “Aaaah, this next could dictate everything!”)
- The giving-away-too-much-without-actually-saying-anything pause, when you start to type and then decide to edit your response.
- The times when the iPhone has actually malfunctioned and you have just worked yourself into a rage for no reason, or the times you blindly convince yourself that it has.
- The text you want to pretend you haven’t read yet – but then find that your pocket has pressed against the cursor, which is now in the response tab and, damn, now he knows that you’ve seen it and your whole plan is foiled.
- When “Sometimes I don’t want someone – O.K., likely a boy – to know I’m taking so long to write a text that I start a brand-new blank text and then copy and paste it in the original chain,” said by a New York public relations manager named Laura Barganier.
Text message now comes with a sort of etiquacy in online communication, causing an undesirable amount of anxiety in texting situations/predicaments we find ourselves in everyday. After stating her first form of text-bubble anxiety – the “Aaaah, this next could dictate everything!” – Bennett states, “really shouldn’t be happening over text message in the first place but is because, well, that’s the way we communicate these days.” Her remark is completely true, which emphasizes the power of a text message (full of text-bubble anxiety) being that the outcome can be the all-end make or break in a conversation, or even in a relationship.