The absolute joy of social media is the promise that you can talk to (almost) anyone, anywhere at any time – it is a freedom that would have been unimaginable in the last revolutionary age of communication, but alas it seems that very freedom has become a tyranny – but thankfully – maybe – there is a solution to this tyranny. The humble ‘auto-reply. Despite their various pleasing permutations – none of the prominent social media platforms offer an autoreply built into their messaging systems. This is true for: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Telegram. For those who enjoy being inundated with information and conversation, I am sure this must be an absolute delight. For those of us on the other side, the intensity of interaction it requires, and the infinite possibility for social faux pax and indelicacy is simply too torturous. I’m sure this is very much a marmite situation. Yet I think even those who thrive on boundless communication would benefit from all social media platforms having an out of office. There are cumbersome workarounds – pining your preferences at the top of your status – leaving social media platforms –but life just should not be that hard. More seriously, the boundlessness of the messaging part of most social media platforms are no doubt part of the addictive, and in some cases, anxiety inducing aspects of these platforms – as humans we thrive best when we have some autonomy over our conditions and situations. It is plausible to ignore messages on social media – but often to the detriment of relationships – exactly what most platforms pride themselves on nurturing.
For me, the root of the problem is that the values of human to human interaction have not (or do not) change simply because we are in an age of instantaneous communication – and perhaps they should not. In general, if someone can reach you instantly – they expect a fairly swift response – and vice versa; of course, my swift and your slow may be completely different things. This used to be the problem with email until the great and most wonderful invention of the autoreply email – and its subgenre the now ubiquitous and globally accepted ‘out of office’, with its infinite possibilities for expressing the simple feeling that I’ve heard you – I cannot respond right now, but I recognize you are a human being that requires some interaction with me. The out of office is the 21st century equivalent of the calling card and the letter in return. I warrant this little alteration to our twitching platforms will increase global productivity, civility and you know, just make the world an all-round better place. That none of the major social media platforms has this functionality is baffling.
The other matter is choice – while social media platforms proliferate – and most people enjoy engaging with more than one – I warrant most people have a preferred platform where they can be reached. It should be easier for consumers and organizations to express those preferences on social media. For small organizations or one-wo/man outfits – the plethora of ways through which customers can reach them can be a double-edged sword – responding to messages across social media platforms does take away valuable time that should be focused on consumers. From like buttons to gifs, the whole infrastructure of social media seems geared towards manipulating human emotions towards increased and frequent interaction – often to the good; from the delight of likes on our images, or the joy of a blue tick on read messages to the dubious pleasure of a Facebook poke – we love the sensations they evoke –especially as public performance – but as they become more and more platforms for person to person communication – one feels social media platforms should begin to cultivate a deeper sense of the nuance of human interaction. Giving us a metaphorical ‘out of office’ function might be just the place to start. In truth, in all communication, we want to approximate the pleasure of natural conversation. It’s also what social media companies want to encourage us to do – which is great, but can we have an elegant way of saying –I can’t speak right now; leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can?
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