I grew up, a teen of the MSN generation. You know, The Sims, pedal pushers and a hearty course of MSN Messenger for every second not spent at school. From letting your contacts know what you're listening to (Let Loose was out, Diddy was in - unless you were trying to be ironic, obvs), to typing and using webcam simultaneously, it was our first form of live, interactive social media. And as is the case with all social media, it was addictive. Rushing home to speak to a friend or boyfriend (because what 13-year-old couples actually speak face-to-face within the six-hour window they have at school?), we'd wholeheartedly engage in a cyber conversation, waiting with baited breath for those three little words.
'Jake is typing'
Growing up in a time where technology changed faster than the shop floor in Topshop Oxford Street, we got over MSN, and into texting. I figured, as the technology had developed, we had developed, too. Grown out of trying to get a response by writing an evocative status, pretending to be offline until our love interest popped up. And for the most part, we had. While they exist, neither me, or my friends are guilty of the 'pass-agg' or 'mysterious' Facebook status. But even now, we still haven't evaded the special ingredient that kept us hooked in the MSN days.
The three little words turned into three little dots. Ellipses, brought to us by iPhones. There was a time when we didn't feel like immediacy was required to live as normal human beings. That time has long gone. We have such a desire to be tuned in at every turn, that just seeing those dots, ergo knowing someone is replying, sends our brains into overdrive. Especially when the dots disappear, but no fruits of their labour appear. As if it hasn't happened. As if we haven't driven ourselves insane for the last twenty minutes by watching and waiting and caring. Just as frustrating is receiving a one syllable answer (the most infuriating has to be 'ok', or, if someone really wants to piss off you off, 'k').
All of these emotions provoke The Questions. Should I start writing again, or will our messages cross over, thus causing further question/answer problems? Are they just going to send their message later? Were they even writing?!
It's bad enough receiving a virtual receipt, telling us when our friends have read our messages (and then not replied. 'Ha, caught you out!' we say. Until we realise they still haven't replied, and what does this mean?). But now, it's dire. We live in a world where we obsess over a message being written, because of it's content, which is still unknown because we, er, haven't received it yet. (NB I say 'we' knowing that I am just as much a criminal/victim of these irrational queries as anyone else).
Talk about pressure. But it's not just the receiver who must field these woes. If you're on the other side of the conversation, you must face The Questions, too (yes, more). Are you going to think less of me because I started to reply in the doctor's waiting room but was called in for a flu jab, and forgot to finish it afterwards? Will you resent me if I don't tell you this, my genuine reason for the stop/start typing situation? Will you tar me with the brush of someone who's 'crap at getting back to people'? Or maybe a tease, playing hard to get, perhaps?
Oddly, the one question that never comes up is: Should I stop looking at the message and waiting for your reply to replace the ellipses and maybe, perhaps, just get on with my life and only think about your message when and if it appears on my phone?
Unlike the other questions, this one has a level of importance, and the answer could serve us well (both mentally and physically - phone claw is just as scary as phone anxiety). Unlike the other questions, we actually know the answer to this one. Of course, it's yes. But that probably won't stop us from continuing to over-analyse iMessage ellipses...