I Turned on My Read Receipts Like a Total Dad for a Week—and Now All My Friends Hate Me

Photo: Getty Images/Tim Robberts
The first time I shoot a text to a potential friend, I keep an eye out for one major red flag. If you have your read receipts on, I want nothing—n-o-t-h-i-n-g—to do with you. This may seem extreme, but evidence from communications past leads me to believe that this move is at best passive-aggressive and at worst just plain rude. Unless, of course, you're a dad. Then all bets are off, and I honest-to-God believe you're just doing the best you can while tapping away with both pointer fingers, using flip phone-era shorthands ("U OK?"), and sending paragraph long sonnets about the world's most underrated pastime: lawn-mowing.

Today's Father's Day. So as a little experiment to celebrate my dear (timeless) dad, I turned on my read receipts last week and readied myself for the text-apocalypse. For the uninitiated, read receipts are an optional iMessage feature that allows the person who texted you to know if you've seen their message and at what time. Most people turn them off. Surely, by turning mine on, my friends would dump me, my family would write me out of their will, and the robots that send my Amazon shipping updates would ghost me (the horror!). Was I being dramatic? Sure. But just a little dramatic. People truly did take offense at my newly minted receipts. Plus, I started to feel ~stressed~ when I couldn't answer messages immediately. It was as if Uncle SMS was watching over my shoulder.


Photo: Kells' iPhone; *piss not puss


I texted my sister Rory the most (multiple times each day, seven days a week), so she had a lot to say about my new read receipts. She replied: "Who are you trying to piss off?"; "It makes me upset"; and (concisely), "They're mean." She also had some pretty interesting points about what she perceives as people's intentions behind that "Read 11:00 a.m." They make the recipient feel "unimportant."

On one hand, you could make the same argument about someone who takes forever to answer even without the time stamp. (Our phones are basically appendages at this point, after all.  Chances are, we read messages that come through pretty darn quickly.) A read receipt is something more though. It's visual confirmation that someone's there—at the other end of the line—and decided not to answer you. It's the texting version of giving someone the "silent treatment." So when I read Rory's message, but didn't answer her for 20 minutes, she texted again: "You know you have your read receipts on, right!?" Truth be told, I'd forgotten, so I answered immediately with: "Sorry! I love you! I'm sorry!" You know, just to apologize for being a total dad.

Over the course of the week, two other friends reacted similarly. They questioned my reasoning, offered a digital TED talk about the heinousness of read receipts, and then (I imagine) silently resented me for taking 30 minutes to respond to their message when it only took me two seconds to read it. All the while, I waited for one—or all of them—to block me.

Photo: Kells' iPhone

I'm sure no one will be surprised to learn that my parents were unperturbed. My mom continued to text me as usual with pictures of leggings that she might purchase. My dad sent me a myriad of Winnie the Pooh GIFs to ask about my day, my feelings, and the state of New York's weather. How do you get away with this, Dad? How have you managed to keep your read receipts on since the invention of iOS without alienating everyone you've ever spoken to?

I'm 95 percent sure my dad doesn't know he has his read receipts on, and maybe that's exactly why he can get away with having them. People who receive a text from him don't take it personally. They just think, Oh, it's Kevin. He's reliable and he'll get back to me when he gets the chance. Maybe his contacts recognize that it's his apathy toward texting, and not disrespect, that prompts the read receipt to appear.

I'm a different story. Like so many members of my generation, I'm in love with screens; I still get psyched when Apple rolls out cool new gadgets and features. So no one's going to believe that I turned on my receipts without careful consideration. That's why, for now (and probs forever), I'll be updating my iPhone's settings to banish the receipts from all my iMessages.

Happy Fathers' Day, dad! Thanks for teaching me how to be myself out here in the "real world." The self-awareness that you've raised me to have is the exact reason why I can recognize that I can never, ever text like you. Otherwise, everyone near and dear to my heart will surely stamp a read receipt on our friendship.

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