11 Sep 2023

The Tyranny of the Tick

Most people carry smartphones and nearly half the UK population (30.1 million people) use WhatsApp. For many of us, the group chat facility is an invaluable tool, and the speed and convenience of instant text messaging is a great asset. But what about the double tick? WhatsApp provides a handy guide to the status of outgoing messages, indicating that they have been sent by their servers (one grey tick), delivered to the recipient’s device (two grey ticks), and read (two blue ticks). It is the latter facility that is causing anxiety, especially as many WhatsApp users have their ‘online’ status turned on, so paranoid senders can verify that the recipient is online but can also confirm that their message has not been read.

This minor conundrum has led to a new form of social anxiety. People now track the progress of their messages and can compute, in real time, the response lag. A long wait in grey tick land might indicate that the sender is seen as a bore, or a nuisance, or someone who is not prioritised. Some people feel that waiting for their double ticks to turn blue is akin to knocking at a closed, and unanswered door, when you are well aware that the resident is at home and has even glimpsed you through the window. The gap between the holy grail of the double blue tick and the response can now be accurately calibrated, and many people are disappointed to find that there is nothing ‘instant’ about the messaging; they have effectively been pushed to one side or deprioritised and a response is a long time coming.

Of course, these anxieties may very well be ill-founded. The recipient may be someone who checks messages and defers answering them until a more convenient time, or simply a chronic procrastinator who is temperamentally incapable of giving a prompt response to anyone. There may well be good reasons for waiting to reply: the recipient might be awaiting further information, or hoping to hear from a third party etc. It is foolish to immediately leap to the most negative of conclusions.

However, there are ways in which some of these anxieties can be allayed:

•Defer Reading
If you receive a WhatsApp message and you know you won’t have time to reply to it promptly, don’t open it. If you leave it alone, it will register as being ‘unseen’ and the sender won’t worry that their message is being ignored.

•Change your online status
You can always go into your Settings and under ‘Privacy’ you can hide your online status, so that your contacts do not know whether you are available. This might also be a good way of assuaging their anxiety about slow responses.

•Reply promptly
The simplest thing of all is to reply promptly to all messages. It’s polite, it’s responsive and it means there are no troubling lacunae in your communications. Even if you just send a line to say you’ll be replying properly in due course, it will set the sender’s mind at rest, and is therefore considerate behaviour.

•Jettison the ticks
If you feel you’re becoming increasingly neurotic about the whole world of text messaging, it is quite easy to turn off the blue ticks by going to your Privacy settings and turning off “Read receipts”. This radical solution may well be simplest way of easing any paranoia about ignoring or being ignored. Like much new technology, the ticks provide a useful function, but they are not universally appreciated or needed, and if they don’t work for you, the best decision is to tailor the app to your own communication style.

•Resist the temptation to hound recipients
It can be tempting to bombard obdurate recipients, especially if they are advertised as being online, with “Are you there?” or “I need an answer” messages. This can very soon look frantic or desperate and might very well drive your interlocutor underground. If you feel compelled to chase up non-replies, it might be better to choose a different medium, such as a text or email, and then to innocently ask “I wonder if you got my WhatsApp message?”

•Switch to voice message
If you really do need an answer and you’re getting increasingly frustrated, you could always send a voice message in WhatsApp and suggest that the recipient replies in kind. You can say, at the beginning of your own voice message, that you are using this medium because it’s quicker and simpler, especially if everyone is very busy.

•It’s not you it’s me!
If you are experiencing some persistent non-replies to your messages, it might be time to look at your own messaging style. Are your messages too frequent? Are they too vague? Are they passive-aggressive or just outright confrontational? It’s quite possible that you’re not getting replies because you’re not communicating politely or effectively, and your recipients would rather go to ground than engage in a rapid-fire dialogue with you. We’re all busy and under pressure, so long, rambling messages may well fill some recipients with despair. If you need a response from your recipients, try and ask pithy questions, which can simply be answered in the affirmative or negative. Work hard to write texts that are quick to read, easy to understand, concise and comprehensible; you may well find that they rarely languish unanswered.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.