I am, by my own admission, a terrible (but improving!) texter. Receiving a text almost always feels like an imposition to me, and nowhere does text feel like a bigger intrusion than when I’m at work. It doesn’t matter if I’m engaged in a legitimate heads-down jam session, or just idly screwing around on the internet and avoiding my work, when I see a text notification on my phone, I’m filled with a mild sense of dread. (Notable exceptions include texts from romantic interests.)
It’s not about feeling compelled to answer one text; it’s feeling as though I’m being dragged into a text correspondence that will last the rest of my workday. Because it’s never just one text. There’s an expectation now that you not only respond to a few stray texts mid-day, but that you engage in a full-on conversation that never really starts or ends or goes anywhere, but is chock-full of GIFs, memes, emojis and one-liners, and is sure to kill your productivity. And if you don’t respond, you’re a jerk.
The irony, of course, is that when I initiate a text thread, I expect the person to respond immediately, regardless of the time of day. I abhor being left on read, even when I know the person on the other end is probably tending to something more pressing. I’m a hypocrite and part of the problem.
I’m more fortunate than most professionals, though, in that my job necessitates I always be on the internet, and I therefore have an excuse to pick up my phone throughout the day and dash off a few texts.
Others, however, aren’t so lucky.
Like the five guys below, all of whom have jobs that seemingly make it impossible to text while on the clock. Their professions: A farmer, a machine operator, an Uber/Lyft driver, a high school teacher and a nature guide. And while their texting behaviors differed, one thing is clear: No one — no matter how dangerous or off-the-grid their occupation — is given a break when it comes to not replying to a text in a timely fashion.
Layton Ehmke, 37, Healy, Kansas
In the summer, I’m rolling tractors over the fallow ground and laying fertilizer. It’s a lot of work, but when I’m actually up in the tractor, I have all the time to text. The tractor runs on GPS, and the machine does 95 percent of the work. It’s basically autopilot. All I have to do is turn the tractor around every seven to 10 minutes. I’ll sit in the tractor with my computer and watch TV and text whoever is available. There’s also a hired farmhand who lives on my farm, and we’re constantly texting back and forth about what needs to be done.
Harvest season is different, though. We’re unloading trucks, thousands of a bushels at a time, with an augur. It’s a great way to move a lot of grain, and a great way to rip your leg off, so I have to stay focused. Obviously that means texting is not the greatest idea. Sometimes we have teenagers on the property helping out, though, and those little jerks are on their phones all the time.
That said, the missus gets annoyed if I’m not responding. I think she thinks that I can easily take a break from some of that hard labor, but you have stay focused. Other friends of mine know to leave me alone.
But I’m guilty of that, as well. I’ve absolutely lost it when people haven’t responded to me in the past. Like if my car breaks down. I’m in need! I can die out here! What the hell?!
Phones have totally changed our expectations about what to expect and when to expect it. I can call up a sushi order on my phone and have it on my doorstep in 10 minutes. And we apply that to everyone we know. We forget people have their own stuff to do.
Szymon, 29, Nowy Tomyśl, Poland
My job entails programming the electrical discharge machines, and running quality assurance of the output. I suppose nothing would really happen if I texted at work, but I don’t do it as a self-imposed rule. My contract says I’m to work an eight hour day with one 15-minute break, and I always try to stick to that agreement and be as productive as possible. After all, my job is to maximize my employer’s profit. By doing so, I have a better chance at a raise or promotion.
Sometimes people get frustrated that I don’t text them back right away. But people close to me have learned it’s how I communicate, and they’ve grudgingly accepted it. They know I always answer calls if something urgent happens. And I do respond at lunch.
As to why people expect an instant response, we live in amazing times. It’s the best possible time to be alive, in that instant replies are, in fact, possible. But people always want more. It always has to be faster, better. And wanting better things is good, but there’s a limit. In this case, the limit is the demand of other people’s time and attention.
Saint George, 34, Los Angeles
Usually, when someone texts me while I’m on an Uber ride, I’ll wait until I drop off the passenger to respond — even if the ride lasts an hour. Luckily, my car helps me manage texts while I’m driving since it can read texts aloud. It can also display them on the center console, and it has 15 different stock responses I can send from the touch screen, such as, “I’m driving right now. I’ll call you later.”
Some people still expect an instant response, though. And if they do, they tend to carry that expectation into other parts of their personality. It says a lot about who they are as a person. Mainly, that they’re entitled. No matter how hard you try with them, it’ll never be enough.
I dated a woman like that once, and I told her I wasn’t going to treat her that way. That’s why I’m single.
Conor Luck, 25, Chicago
The thing about being a young teacher is I like to use my phone more in the classroom than someone who has been teaching for, say, 10 or 20 years. I use it for my calendar and email, and I don’t try to hide it. Not for texts, though.
Students, on the other hand, are banned from having their phones. I’ve taught at other schools where they were allowed to have phones in the room, but it’s nice to be at a school where they’re not. They are, however, allowed to have laptops, and they’ll often chat with each other using those. We police it to the best of our ability. Sometimes I’ll ask the students to close their laptops when I really need their attention. But screens are part of our culture at this point, and we need to adapt to that.
For example, I’m part of several group chats I use to stay in touch with friends from college. Those will blow up during the day, but I don’t participate in them. If I send a text from school, it’s to make plans or for a logistical thing. I’m very unlikely to respond to someone asking, “Hey, how are you?” or sending me an online video.
“Ranger” Ted Mattison, 51, Huntington Beach, California
I’m an actor, but I do other jobs to make it work, including acting teacher, handyman and Ranger Ted, my hiking guide business. I lead people on hikes and teach them about their surroundings — preschool classes, kids’ birthday parties, alumni groups, corporate outings, individuals and families.
I don’t check my phone while working unless someone is trying to find the meet-up point for the hike, or is missing. Looking at your phone is the exact opposite of the mission of Ranger Ted, which is to get people outdoors and away from their screens. How would it look if I was telling people to explore nature and my head was down in my phone?
Occasionally, I’ll have to answer a text from my agent, though. That’s the job of any actor; you have to stay in touch with your rep. If they need an answer ASAP, you have to give it to them or you’re not going to last long. All other texts, I handle once I’m done with work.
I’ve been married for six years, so I kind of missed the whole texting revolution as it relates to dating. The majority of people I communicate with understand that there are going to be lags in response time throughout the day. Plus, there’s a tone I take when I don’t respond to someone’s text in a reasonable amount of time: “Omg, I’m sorry. I’m just getting to this now.”
On a cultural level, though, the expectations around texting are way too difficult to maintain.