CHICAGO (AP) — Technology is supposed to make us easier to reach, and often does. But the same modes of communication that have hooked us on the instant reply also can leave us feeling forgotten.
We send an email, a text or an instant chat message. We wait — and nothing happens. Or we make a phone call. Leave a voicemail message. Wait. Again, nothing.
We tend to assume it's a snub, and sometimes it is.
Erica Swallow, a 26-year-old New Yorker, says she's heard a former boyfriend brag about how many text messages he never reads. "Who does that?" she asks, exasperatedly.
These days, though, no response can mean a lot of things. Maybe some people don't see messages because they prefer email and you like Twitter. Maybe we're just plain overwhelmed, and can't keep up with the constant barrage of communication.
Whatever the reason, it's causing a lot of frustration. A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 39 percent of cell phone owners say people they know complain because they don't respond promptly to phone calls or text messages. A third of cell owners also have been told they don't check their phones frequently enough.
It happens in love. It happens in business.
"Tell me to go to hell, but just tell me something! I'm getting lonely over here." That's what Cherie Kerr, a public relations executive in Santa Ana, Calif., jokes she's considered putting after her email signature.
It happens in families.
Last year, Terri Barr, a woman on Long Island, N.Y., with grown children, sent her son a birthday present — a $350 gift certificate for "a wonderful kayaking trip for six, lunch, wine, equipment," she says.
She sent him an email with the details, but he didn't respond. She says she then telephoned and texted him to tell him it was a present. He eventually sent a one-line email, she says, telling her he was too swamped to open her email gift right then.
Instant communication "can be wonderful — but also terrible," says Barr, who shared the story more as a lament of modern communication than a reprimand of her son, whose busy work life, she acknowledged, often takes him overseas.
So this year, she sent him a birthday gift by snail-mail in a box. "He actually opened it," she says, and they've been talking more frequently since then.
Many other people, though, sit waiting for responses that never come.
"That's where the frustration lies — it's in the ambiguity," says Susannah Stern, a professor of communication studies at San Diego State University.
Though we often assume the worst, experts say we shouldn't.
Frequently, they say, people simply — and unknowingly — choose the wrong way to contact someone.
"I admit to having often been lax with checking my work number voicemail, which has led to me not responding to people waiting for my reply," says Janet Sternberg, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.
She's also had technical glitches. For instance: thinking she'd sent a text message to someone overseas and then, when he didn't respond, realizing she had his international number programmed incorrectly in her phone.
"The sheer management of all these devices and channels is exhausting and sometimes daunting, leaving less and less time for actual communication," Sternberg says. "We connect more but communicate less, in many ways."
That's why many people say they have no choice but to prioritize — and to respond only to the most urgent messages.
That describes Mahrinah von Schlegel, who's working to launch a Chicago-based "incubator" that will offer shared office space and other resources for fledgling tech entrepreneurs.
"People get angry when not answered and send multiple messages," says von Schlegel, the 30-year-old managing director of the firm, known as Cibola. She says missed communication has caused her to lose some business deals. Often, it's when people try to contact her by Facebook or direct message on Twitter and she doesn't see the messages for days. Email, she says, is her preferred mode of communication.
But even then, she says, there are only so many hours in the day: "I still need time to eat and sleep and shower."
As she sees it, getting no response — even when she's the one unsuccessfully trying to contact someone — is just part of life in a high-tech world. A lot of young people say that, so they've become accustomed to having to try again, or try a different mode of communication if something is truly urgent.
"I think there's this understanding because we've grown up being bombarded by communication," says Mike Gnitecki, a 28-year-old special education teacher in Longview, Texas.
So he's willing to try "multiple points of contact" when trying to reach his students' parents — because, if he wants a response, "that's just how it is."
David Gillman, a 25-year-old Chicagoan, also opts for brevity and efficiency by sending mass texts to several friends at once to save time.
He only expects those who have time or inclination to respond, and doesn't take it personally if they don't.
It gets trickier, he says, with people from older generations, including his parents, because they like to leave him voicemails, which he doesn't like to take time to check.
"I need to get better about that," he concedes.
Those types of missed communications — and a lack of response — can cause "turbulence" in a relationship, says Dan Faltesek, an assistant professor of social media at Oregon State University. But, he adds, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It can be a little awkward, but you should talk to people about how you like to talk," Faltesek says. "Everyone will be happier when they say what the rules are."
And it'll go even more smoothly, he says, when people are willing to step outside their own favorite mode of communication to those preferred by the person they're contacting.
"Use the reverse golden rule," Faltesek advises. "Treat others the way THEY like to be treated."
An example: Gnitecki, the teacher in Texas, is considering sending a survey home to ask parents how they'd like to be contacted.
Tech and communication experts agree that choosing a primary means of communication, and letting it be known, is one way to improve communication.
Rebecca Otis, content and social media manager at Digital Third Coast, an Internet marketing firm in Chicago, also recommends getting rid of email and social media accounts you don't check regularly. And text messaging, she says, should be reserved for communication that requires a more urgent reply.
Finding ways to prioritize, and receive, the most important messages also helps.
San Francisco-based AwayFind Inc. is among companies that have developed applications that help filter email — in this instance, alerting users to important emails on their mobile devices.
In the end, we can't possibly respond to everything, says Jared Goralnick, the company's founder and CEO, who's also part of a nonprofit group called the Information Overload Research Group, which looks for ways to deal with out-of-control communication.
As he sees it, it's good to be responsive, "but not to set an expectation that you'll be available for everything."
"That's just not sustainable," he says.
In other words, if we're going to keep our sanity, we'll sometimes have to accept the no response.
On the Internet:
Information Overload Research Group: http://iorgforum.org/
Martha Irvine is a national writer for The Associated Press. She can be reached at mirvine(at)ap.org or at http://twitter.com/irvineap
Earlier on HuffPost:
How do I unchain emails?
<em>Currently an email continues on and on, as the recipient/others reply to it, but I can't always see that there is a new addition, as it doesn't come up as a new email -- it remains in the original location by date. Do you understand my question? I can't think how to make it clearer. -- Deborah</em> I hear you loud and clear, Deb. One of the biggest adjustments for people switching over to Gmail is the automatic chaining of emails in the inbox -- that is, replies to a certain email thread are nested under the original email, rather than presented as separate, independent emails. You'll probably get used to it after a while, but if you absolutely loathe the chained look, there's a solution: Recently, Gmail relented and pushed out an option that allows you to "unchain" those emails. Go into your Gmail Settings (click the gear icon in the top right and then "Mail Settings") and find the option called Conversation View. Switch Conversation View to the off position to unchain your emails for good. (Also, remember to scroll down and Save Changes, Deborah, otherwise your new view will not go into effect.)
How can you sort emails by sender or subject?
Many of you wrote in to ask how you can sort by email sender or subject alphabetically -- that ain't gonna happen on Gmail, it just ain't. Gmail is an email service based on searching emails, not sorting them. The search bar at the top of your inbox is your primary means of locating those past emails, and Gmail doesn't allow you to alphabetize your columns from there. The best you can do to organize based on sender or subject is to learn your Gmail search operators. Search operators are, per Google, "words or symbols that perform special actions in Gmail search." They look like this: "from:[sender]," "to:[recipient]," "subject:[subject]," etc. So, if you want to find all of your emails from, say, Huffington Post Senior Tech Editor Bianca Bosker, you could type in the search bar "from:email@example.com" to bring up all of her past emails. Or if you want to find all the emails you've ever sent to Bianca Bosker, you could type "to:firstname.lastname@example.org" in the Gmail search bar. You can also combine search terms: <em>to:email@example.com subject:"office hot tub" </em> <a href="http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=7190" target="_hplink">Click here for the official list of Gmail search operators</a>. <strong>NOTE</strong>: Someone should write a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODGA7ssL-6g" target="_hplink">catchy mnemonic song</a> to help us remember these. Another option: If you download an email client like Mozilla Thunderbird or Microsoft Outlook and sync up your Gmail account, you will be able to alphabetize your inbox however you'd like. From Gmail.com, however, you are out of luck, as far as we know. Speaking of things that Gmail notably can't do...
How can you search for larger emails in Gmail?
Nope, you can't sort by email size in Gmail, either. Again, Outlook and Thunderbird are quick, free external programs that can sort your Gmail by size, but if you don't want to download anything, here are the two best web-based options for searching for large emails in Gmail that I know of: 1. Use the search operator "has:attachment" to locate larger emails. For "has:attachment", Gmail will bring up emails with files attached to them, starting with the most recent. If you want to bring up only older emails with attachments, consider something like "has:attachment before:2010/06/01." This will bring up emails with attachments sent before June 1, 2010, and then you can choose which ones you no longer need. (That Kris Kross album your friend ironically sent you is really just taking up precious Gmail space at this point). 2. Use FindBigMail.com. When you are logged into Gmail, simply visit FindBigMail.com and enter in your email address. After granting the site permission, FindBigMail scans your entire Gmail archive and locates your large emails for you. (You do the deleting afterwards.) The service is free and does not require or store any of your private information. <a href="https://www.findbigmail.com/faq" target="_hplink">For an FAQ, read here</a>. Sorry I couldn't be of more help, <strong>Salim</strong>. Let me know if you find a better way.
How do I log into my Gmail on my iPad?
Well, you can launch the iPad's Safari browser and navigate to Gmail.com, of course, but we prefer the Mail app -- as should you, <strong>Michael in San Diego</strong>. Here are your steps: 1. Click on the Settings app. 2. Touch Mail, Contacts, Calendars on the left sidebar. 3. Under Accounts, touch "Add Account..." 4. Touch Gmail. 5. Enter your name, email address, password, and what you want to call your account (Home Gmail, Work Gmail, Party Gmail, etc.). 6. Choose whether you want to sync your mail, calendars, or notes from that account. 7. Boom, you're done. Check out your new email accounts in the Mail app from the homescreen.
How do you select and then delete all of your spam?
Sure, we all love being told the size of our genitals could be improved, but sometimes the spam we receive becomes too burdensome and we need to mass delete. So writes <strong>Diane in Maryland</strong>, and we agree. In your spam folder, click the center of the "Select" box (it's the box within a box right above the banner ad at the top of your mailbox) to select all. Then click "Delete Forever" to -- well, to delete that Spam forever. (WARNING: Those deals on real estate seminars aren't coming back.)
How free is the free Gmail phone call?
I'd like to ask for clarification on a statement you made regarding "Call Phone." You said: "Again, it's not free for the recipient." But isn't it free for them if they are on a land-line? -- <strong>Gregg from San Diego</strong> My report of the death of landlines was greatly exaggerated, as Gregg pointed out. If you call a cell phone from Gmail, it is free for you but counts against the recipient's cell phone minutes; if you're calling an American or Canadian landline, it is indeed free for everyone (or, rather, there are no additional charges for anyone). <a href="http://support.google.com/chat/?hl=en&topic=30052" target="_hplink">Here's the full skinny on Gmail calling</a>. My apologies to landlines for the premature death pronouncement. You've never looked better.
How do you send mail to people without showing their email addresses?
Peg writes in wanting know how she can send an email to multiple recipients without those recipients being able to see who the others are. Perhaps Peg is planning on throwing a party and doesn't want to tip off the guest list; perhaps she is a manager and wants to yell at certain employees for not turning in their end of year reviews in a timely manner. In any case what Peg and all passive-aggressive bosses are looking for is the BCC field. BCC stands for "blind carbon copy." Any email addresses you type in the BCC field will not be visible to any of the recipients. For <a href="http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=57143" target="_hplink">a full explanation of how BCC works</a>, we turn once again to Gmail's help desk.