Thursday, May 14, 2015


I generally reply to everything… and if I don’t, I at least feel guilty about it. I’m not motivated by guilt about many things, but my habit of replying to emails, voicemails, texts and such, is driven by the nagging guilt that would otherwise haunt me.

I know that not everyone is driven the same way… evidenced by the replies I would like to receive but would grow old waiting for from friends, family, and colleagues (and, especially, sons).

I’ve noticed that I’m more compelled to respond to some categories than others. On one end of the scale is my wife Laurie; regardless of the medium, she will always get a reply ASAP. On the other end of the scale are strangers wanting to sell me something; I’ve never felt compelled to return a call or message from an unsolicited salesperson.

When it comes to the medium, I think some carry more of an expectation of a reply than others. When coming from someone I know, I think an email or a voicemail demands a reply… but I think replies are optional when it comes to text messages, or any other direct messages via Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.

I think I have irritated a few folks with this policy, especially when it comes to texts. I think of texts as a personal, in-the-moment medium (not synchronous, not asynchronous… near synchronous), so if I either can’t or don’t want to reply immediately, I generally don’t; I rarely bother reading or responding to texts that are more than 5 minutes old. I tell people that if they really expect or need a response, then email is a much better option, at least for me.

Am I wrong about that?

To test my position, I put together a quick-and-dirty survey; you can take it yourself on SurveyMonkey here (it generally takes about 90 seconds to complete). It is, of course, not a scientific survey. Mostly because the responses have come from an email I sent to my church friends, and those who saw my post on Facebook and Twitter. So… the responses are mostly from:

  1. My friends... people like me, around my age, with similar experience and worldviews, and 
  2. People who are generally responsive (they went to the trouble to respond to the survey). 

Nevertheless… I was interested in the responses, which included:
  • For people that they know, people say that they always or usually reply 90% of the time to phone/vmail, email, and text. Their inclination to reply to Facebook or Twitter messages lags far behind. 
  • For people that they don’t know, people say that they always or usually reply to phone/vmail, and email 25% of the time, and texts 20% of the time. 
  • People prefer email, by far, for work/school business. Only a few seem to think texts are acceptable for work/school business. Nobody thinks business should be conducted on Facebook or Twitter. 
  • Texts scored very high for communication with friends and family, outscoring phone/vmail by a bit, and other media by a lot.
  • Email is the preferred medium when it comes to detailed questions or updates. Nobody likes text for details, and folk seem to prefer email over phone/vmail when it comes details as well. 
  • When it comes to quick questions, there was a pronounced preference for texts. 

So… I think I can stick with my premise that text is a personal, in-the-moment medium. If I can respond right away, I should. I’m still thinking about whether I should feel obligated to deal with stale texts.

One other observation, I was surprised how email outscored phone/vmail by such a large margin when it came to work/school, detailed questions, and detailed updates. Verbal communication is, of course, important… but it appears that the ability to write continues to be vital… possibly even more vital than ever before.

Take the survey (click here) and build out my data… and, as always, I’d appreciate your feedback.

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