Rumor has it, Apple wants to give you the option to use read receipts on a contact-by-contact basis in iMessage. This is a dreadfully bad idea that will undoubtedly destroy relationships, estrange friends, and piss off teens. Why? Because read receipts are awful, and making them more sophisticated is bullshit.
First of all, a public service announcement: You can turn off read receipts. Here’s how. Do it right now.
Read receipts sound like a good idea in theory. You might think: “Read receipts enable me to see if my spouse/friend/teen saw my text, and that is convenient.” But you know what your spouse/friend/teen is thinking? They’re thinking that you’re going to get mad if they don’t text right back. If you’ve turned on read receipts, that devilish little grey line of text will notify your spouse/friend/teen that you have indeed seen the message. If you don’t reply right away, you’re ignoring them. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a meeting and can’t tap out a reply. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the subway and about to go underground. It doesn’t even matter if you just want a little time to think about what to say. If that read receipt appears and there’s not an immediate reply, you’re gonna look like an asshole.
This is a struggle that spans generations. For some (the youngs) texting is often like instant messaging and immediate replies are more common. For others (the olds) texting is like email. You send a message and expect a reply whenever the other person is ready. These are gross generalizations, but you get the point.
There was once a world without read receipts. If an impatient texter didn’t get an immediate reply, they’d get annoyed but also consider the possibility that the receiver didn’t see the text yet. That scenario is manageable thanks to a fine balance of patience, empathy, and respect for others’ time. Read receipts threw off that balance by adding in a new and undesirable variable. But the option to turn off all read receipts restores the balance. You’d never get grief from your spouse/friend/teen because you eschewed this read receipt technology in favor of normal texting etiquette.
Now, Apple apparently wants to complicate things even further. Now, some people will ask: “Well, why don’t you turn read receipts on for me?” But you shouldn’t have to answer that. Because Apple should do away with read receipts altogether. They should be banned.