texting, feeling scattered, and musings on the current state of tech

October 5, 2017
As I mentioned recently, I’m reading Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant right now.  This comes on the heels of already being somewhat obsessed with curtailing my own phone usage and mindless social media time.  
One thing currently driving me up a wall is TEXTING, and what I feel has become out-of-hand use of this particular communication method.
Selected texts I got in the past 48 hours:
– A patient’s mom (happens to be in neighborhood and has #) texting me to tell me that she emailed me about a (non-urgent) prescription.  (It’s not like she emailed me and I did not respond; she texted me AT THE SAME TIME as emailing me)
– An acquaintance asking me about an appointment for their child — I am not sure how this person even got my number, as I did not give it out
– A text from a friend asking if I am worried about cell phone radiation and pregnancy (yes, there’s irony there 🙂 ).  
– A colleague in another discipline asking if I had time to talk (I did not, was seeing patients nonstop, and I had told her I was going to be very busy until Thurs or Friday during a prior conversation)
None of these people meant to annoy me.  I realize that.  (Although the first one kind of pisses me off).  But — in my opinion (and maybe I’m just . . . old?) — they all should have been emails.  Because in my mind, a text demands a relatively quick answer.  They are purposefully intrusive.  Apple’s lovely innovation of “read” alerts has not helped with this — and because I don’t like the discomfort of someone knowing I’ve seen a text but have not responded, I often leave them unread.
Which drives the “inbox-Zero” compulsive side of me crazy.
(Which I realize is my problem, but still).
Am I wrong?  Are we supposed to be treating our text messages as just another In Box to reply to at our leisure now?  Or does everyone actually expect an answer right away?  And if so, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO FOCUS ON ANYTHING?  Or be present in life?
I ended up writing my friend an email (we had talked about my desire to text less before, so I emailed her this):

SO – I am really kind of obsessed with lessening my phone use.  I find it so intrusive – like I am not present in life [when I am on my phone all the time].   I find that constantly responding to things all day makes me crazy and anxious which kind of makes sense b/c I have so many inputs at work and at home I honestly can’t take anymore after that! 

It’s not that I don’t want social connections – I just can’t have it bleeding into work day, into family time, etc. I realize I may sound crazy and radical in this day and age, but I just want to go back to 1997 when it wasn’t a thing to respond to a buzzing phone every 3 minutes.   

I thought she might be mad, but she sent me back a rather heartening response: 

I actually really agree with you and I feel guilty all the time for how often I am texting, surfing Facebook, surfing instagram, googling things on Safari etc. on my phone.  I am less worried about radiation  than like you say, my own sanity.  I don’t find it makes me ANXIOUS per se, I just feel like I have serious ADD and am not present in life.  {Husband} yells at me all the time.

Anyway, I think this is a very interesting topic worthy of further study and thought, and something I want to delve into even more as I hone my own habits in the digital age.  I was just thinking about how incredibly different things have become in just the past 5-6 years, and it makes sense that perhaps etiquette just hasn’t had a chance to evolve.

Things I do that are working for me:
– Not being on Facebook – happily off since Feb 2016
– Using the Moment app and keeping phone ‘screen’ use to under 60 min/day.  I’d also love to add more completely screen-free weekend days.
– Using email, not texting, to make plans with friends/fam
– Keeping notifications OFF for WhatsApp (I am in a kindergarten parent group for A’s class but quickly realized I did NOT want the notifications going off all day!)
– Keeping notifications off for almost everything, actually
– Trying to get friends that text frequently to switch to email or phone
– Put select people on do not disturb (esp those who tend to text me after I’ve gone to bed, ugh!)

Things I still need to figure out:
– How to keep professional contacts from frequently texting (just don’t respond right away to non-urgent requests?  Respond to a text via email?)
– How to avoid getting interrupted frequently when I am working on something important — I’d love to just put my phone away completely, but feel I have to have it out in case there is a family or work-related emergency

I welcome your thoughts on this topic – and I think it would make a fascinating podcast episode.

As I’ve mentioned, I love the Moment iOS app – allows for tracking of all screen time + # of pickups
You can also EXCLUDE apps you don’t want to count, like Google Maps or your podcast or music player app, for example.

Apparently there are 2 Android alternatives – BreakFree and Quality Time that are similar!


  • Reply Miranda March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    turn off the read receipts on your iPhone! it’s under setting, messages, and it’s just a toggle to turn it on or off. this way, people can’t tell if you’ve read the message or not!

  • Reply shellychlan March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I dont’ comment very often but have been a reader for a few years and love your honesty and sharing on your blog. I also listened to all the podcasts and am loving that too! My kids are 7 and 5 and I also have many of the struggles that you have and appreciate hearing different points of view and also sharing in the facts that parenting of you children is not easy!
    I am not as visible as you are and thankfully my students wouldn’t typically have my cell phone number (I teach at a community college in Canada). I will only respond to work related items with email. I have had students try to friend me on Facebook but I tell them that it is for my family and friends only and just don’t respond to those requests. I am on linked in and will connect that way.
    I actually like texts for communicating but I think I may get less texts than you and my friends and family know that if I’m in the classroom that unless it’s an emergency don’t expect a response. I also will not always respond immediately. Sometimes from not hearing my phone or if I’m just really trying to be present. It’s not always easy but I try my best to do a balance.
    I’m really considering getting off of Facebook but there are a couple of groups that I belong to (in real life!) that are using Facebook as a communication tool. I’m not sure how to break away. I try to not go on too often and to not let it bother me that there will be posts from people that I will miss.
    Thanks for putting yourself and the challenges, questions, and fun things of life out in the world for us to share in and discuss!!

  • Reply Emily March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I agree with Ashley. Texting has been absolutely fabulous for me in maintaining relationships with family and friends. I love being able to carry on a group text with old friends who live far away, for instance. I find that email is just not great for these situations because although you can share information by email you don’t ha r the same kind of conversational dynamic which I really like.

    That being said, sarah, I think if I got a lot of work-related texts a lot like you do I would be super annoyed!

  • Reply Laura March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I’ll give you my perspective here as a 25 year old reader who for the most part grew up with texting. I don’t really email any of my friends/family, I mostly just communicate by text (or FaceTime) and find this to be the case of most people I know. Because of this, I think a lot of people in my demographic, including myself, treat text messages as emails. So for example, if I see someone texted me about something urgent I will respond right away but otherwise I’ll find the time to write back when it works for me. This means someone could be getting a text back several hours or even a day later. I find it the same when I text a friend about something. None of us get offended because we just understand we are all busy with our own schedules and will respond when we find the time.

    I 100% agree with turning your read receipts off (no one needs to know when you read their text!) and also responding to professional texts with an email. Maybe even say you respond quicker to email vs text. By doing that you will set a precedent for any future communication.

    • Reply kindbirds March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      I have teenagers and can vouch for this perspective. Texting = emailing. And they rarely, if ever get on their emails. Even their teachers group text now. I’ve taken on the same MO as Laura describes. If it’s an urgent text I send a quick reply, but some of my girlfriends and I send email long texts to each other (although recently Marco Polo has more been the go-to.)

      I think bc your professional life overlaps, however, you can set whatever precedent works for you! My husband hates how many texts he gets from clients so he just doesn’t read any/most of them. His opinion is unread equals not responsible to answer. : )

    • Reply katedroll March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Thank you for that perspective. I am realizing that I am part of the "older group" and I think I am starting to understand more how texting is used more commonly and doesn’t necessarily equate an emergency (which is mentally what I associate with texting).

  • Reply Sophia March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I have a google voice account and give that phone number to people I don’t want to respond urgently to. The texts are all forwarded to my gmail and voicemails are transcribed (reasonably well) to emails as well.

    I also have groups in my iPhone and when it’s on do not disturb mode family, school/daycare and select friend messages are not affected.

    I’m still in residency but I have a hard line about patients calling/texting me on my personal cell phone. If there’s an emergency and I’m off my colleagues know how to find me with questions and I trust them to be responsible (which they have been) about contacting me only when appropriate after hours. This might not be an option in your practice setting but giving patients a google voice number might be on option (though they’d have to be told that it’s not hippa compliant)

  • Reply Holly March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    This is TOTALLY something I’ve struggled with, to the point that I’ve been that person that doesn’t respond to texts for weeks on end because they just IRRITATE me! A few things have helped:
    1) When I DON’T respond for a week or two and then eventually respond, I make a point to say "sorry, bad at texting! For future reference I’m often easier to get a hold of over email!" That has made several of my friends switch to email.
    2) I have an Android phone so I am pretty sure people don’t see the "read" receipts for me, which helps heh.
    3) See if your phone provider has a way to do texts from your internet browser–I think most do. You can also do the same for GroupMe (for group texts) and I imagine for Whatsapp. That is a HUGE timesaver/relief for me because personally I just hate typing things out on my phone. So I’ll sign in to that portal once a day and I can bang out a bunch at once like I would email.

    I think in general unless I’m actively "conversing" with someone over text message (which I hate doing), I don’t expect an immediate response, and I think a lot of people have moved to that framing as well. Treat it like email (batch responding once a day) and you might feel a lot better!

    • Reply Lori c May 27, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      Finally getting a chance to read this post now! I disabled be FB account (although I took a long hiatus when they announced Trump won the election and that had squashed my addiction), got rid of twitter and linked in, and texting is the only thing that I am still struggling with. Some people, like my mom, use it like email with long diatribes and then get angry when I don’t immediately respond. (She will send a “hello?”… So annoying!!!) I’m debating fibbing and saying I don’t get text messages anymore, especially for those few frequent fliers. Is that bad??

  • Reply Kate March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Can you invoke patient privacy to stop patients from sending you texts? I don’t think that iPhones have robust privacy protection. I would respond well if my doc said "My personal phone is not secure so I do not use it to discuss medical issues."

  • Reply Emilie March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    just don’t answer 🙂 people will slowly realize that you’re not a texter and communicate with you via other means. It’s not that you have bad intentions or that you’re a bad friend/doctor, you just have other priorities! People MUST understand that!

  • Reply emilymargaretnyc March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    So I ‘independently’ (I say that because I guess I wasn’t concerned about tracking phone usage until just a week ago, so didn’t realize Moment was the app you’ve been using) discovered Moment also and I love it! It’s made SUCH a difference in my phone pickups/usage.

    Have you found anything similar for your computer? Although I use my computer a lot for ‘work’ (I’m in medical school) I would like to better track my time there as well. I do use RescueTime but would love to find something that gives me more notifications/is more intrusive with reminders/stats so I actually remember to waste less time on a daily basis.

    I would love to know if computer use is also something you’re interested in/have found solutions for. Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts about all this!

  • Reply DI1K March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    where is a good place for comments on the podcast?

  • Reply Emr March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I’ve read for many years but rarely comment. I agree with the other readers who suggest turning off read receipts. I agree the parent/neighbor was rude but you can’t control how the whole world interacts with you. I don’t like talking on the phone but I have to do it with colleagues, clients, or friends who don’t like to text. People call constantly about things they could email about but what I might think it appropriate for a later email response may seem like an emergency to a client. I don’t love it and I can find it intrusive but I adapt.

  • Reply Laura Vanderkam March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I kind of like texting. It’s an immediate way to interact with family/friends, and it’s the only way I communicate with babysitters. But generally I don’t use it for work stuff (unless I’m trying to meet someone in person somewhere). And not many people have my cell phone # so that makes a natural check on it, and probably makes me like it more. I’m only hearing from people I want to hear from!

  • Reply Katie March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    My husband and I have been talking about texting a ton too. He is so aggravated with people expecting a text response immediately. Or people sending a link to an article and that there is then an expectation to read the article and respond immediately. I on the other hand just end up having a huge backlog of texts that I have to respond to. I so miss the days with no phone or at least one you can’t text with. I do remember my beeper from 1996, bahaha.

  • Reply Danielle March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I could go on about this for a bit, but I’ll keep it simple. I’m 33 years old and I’m super picky about who has my cell phone number, but I’ll give my email (work or personal, depending) to anyone who may need to communicate with me. I’m also notorious in my family for leaving my phone on silent all day (my career doesn’t include urgent communication while home and I don’t have children). My mom jokes that she knows full well that if an emergency does happen it would be best to call my husband.

    I’m kinda stubburn about it and refuse to be available 24/7 just because technology makes it possible.

  • Reply Christine Cortese March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Gosh, my heart goes out to all you gals. I’m 65 (but still very strong, fit and healthy and don’t feel a day over 45) but I managed to grow up without all the texting and Facebook, despite being on the computer pretty much constantly since the early 80s (so close onto 40 years, sheesh). I agree with the idea to simply not respond to texts and ditch FB altogether (darn my family who use it and texting to stay in touch). You have to carve out a sacrosanct place for your family and personal lives. All I can suggest is to draw a line somewhere A) rational and B) consensual with your corporate culture, and stick with it.

  • Reply Erin March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I thought I had commented on this when I read it, but I guess not! I just read your update that you turned on read receipts – super helpful!

    For context, I’m a 35 year old mom of 3, I use my phone all the time and I don’t have any issues with that – as in, being on my phone/computer is not something that bothers me. I very rarely talk on the phone to anyone, and if I receive a phone call I can be fairly sure it’s either a major emergency or a teleamarketer.

    One thing I do that REALLY, really really helps me and has turned me into a text lover is putting iMessage on my laptop so I can type with a keyboard. I HATE typing on my phone, and I’ll rarely respond to anything not time sensitive until I’m at a computer and then I can respond to everyone quickly. I also never, ever get work related texts so it’s all just friends/family. I then sometimes treat texting like instant messaging/google chat because many of my good friends are also heavy phone users and we have full/long conversations that way. I didn’t even know iMessage was a thing you could put on your laptop until my husband told me, and it’s really changed the way I text for sure!

    Oh I also keep my phone on silent pretty much 100% of the time. I use it often enough that I’ll see notifications regularly. I also have a few groups (notably, my husband’s family) on do-not-disturb so I don’t see notifications from that group.

  • Reply EAS March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Honestly I mostly feel the same way – I don’t enjoy actual conversations by text because after 3-4 I’d rather just be talking on the phone, and I don’t like the sense of urgency. That being said I’m not the biggest email fan either. From the comments above and personal experience, I think there must just be something about how different peoples brains work that leads to such different experiences.
    My husband is basically always at inbox zero, can flip off a professional email in a matter of minutes and has no problem sleeping or enjoying his day even if he spends much of it on the computer or is online right before bed.
    I hate trying to multitask by responding to texts while I’m doing something else, can never seem to get off a reasonable email in less than 15 minutes and find it super disruptive to my time, sleep and happiness to spend a lot of time online.
    I think it sometimes feels like you have to be on top of all of these things, but honestly I’ve decided this year to just accept and own that I’m not going to be one of those people. I’m good at my job and a pretty decent friend/family member/partner, tech communication is just not going to be the way I’ll show it best.

  • Reply Brittnie March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Please do a podcast episode on this topic. I feel you 100%.I have a few friends who text ALL the time about EVERYTHING and I am starting not to be able to handle it. I feel so ADD and cannot seem to focus on much. Maybe I just need to have honest conversations with these people (like your email to your friend) and also set boundaries/times during the day on when I actually reply.

    Want to read the comments on this post to see other’s thoughts!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:09 pm

      Already recorded 🙂 Stay tuned for Ep #12!!

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