Why it’s important to rethink how we communicate on social media

SpunOut.ie volunteer Aine wonders why reading “seen” can make us feel quite the opposite sometimes

Written by Aine Ahern


An unanswered text

As I sat in a café sipping my flat white I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation to my left. “I can’t believe he left me on seen” said the girl with the messy bun. Her friend with the high pony tail looked at her deadpan and said “Girl he’s definitely at work, or with the lads. When was he last active?” The messy bun somehow looked even messier now as the girl rustled through her hair nervously before wearily replying ”…10 minutes ago”. The conversation picked up again but the gingerbread man on her plate remained untouched.

I tried to zone out and get back to the conversation in front of me but I somehow found myself invested. The poor girl I thought to myself, she’s clearly on edge. I wonder will he respond… maybe he IS busy.. or maybe he’s ghosting her? Or maybe.. just maybe.. he’s just not that into…DING! My racing thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the vibration of the table. I looked up and knew by her Cheshire cat grin that he in fact was.. still into her! “Ben replied. He said he had to lock up the shop for one of boys.” And just like that, I witnessed a transformation. That messy bun stood a little taller, those eyes started to twinkle, and a gingerbread man lost an arm. All for what… two little ticks?

Do we over analyse texts?

I drove home asking myself how was it that the thought of being “seen” would in fact make us feel quite the opposite? In fact being left on read can more often than not make us feel exposed, insecure, even anxious? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we are hurting ourselves with how we communicate on social media. Or should I say, miscommunicate. I’ve seen the most confident people over analyse texts or even ask me “read that, and tell me what you think.” And sometimes we can become hyper over the smallest of details. I’m talking as small as a full stop being placed as opposed to an “xox.” I hate to break it to you but an emoji of a cute giraffe followed by a love heart will never equate to someone looking you in the eye and telling you just how much they love you.


I like numbers, and if you like numbers, you’ll like this next part too! Mehrabian’s communication theory is a theory that suggests communication can be broken into a 55/38/7 ratio. We give 55% of meaning to facial expressions and body language, 38% of meaning to tone of voice and only 7% of meaning toward the actual spoken words. Therefore we can look at someone’s face before listening to their tone of voice. There’s just one problem, where do we give meaning to written words? Like a text message for example? And how? Because if I’ve learned anything at all it’s that getting a “Have you eaten something today?” text can sometimes mean more than “can’t WAIT to see you!!” text. But unless you’re with that person to interpret their facial expressions, and listen to their voice whilst reading their body language, then of course there’s a potential for miscommunication.

What’s more likely to be miscommunicated is being left on “seen”. We have all witnessed someone saying one thing, while completely meaning another. They say they’re not nervous, whilst their palms sweat and knees shake. Therefore how in god’s name are we supposed to know the difference between “Heyyyyy, so sorry I was up the walls!! Xx” and “Was working.” See the difference? Well maybe there isn’t any! Maybe if you actually saw the person who “was working” they might smile with relief as soon as they see you, throw their arms around you, and tell you just how long a day they’ve had. But instead, we read that message and get irritated “ugh he hasn’t texted all day and now he couldn’t be bothered. I’m not texting him for the night now.” Sound familiar?

Taking back control from our phones

Because as much as our phones have made it accessible for constant contact, I believe they have also made constant reassurance an issue too. I can’t remember the last time where I didn’t apologise to someone for not responding within 45 minutes. “Sorry, I was in the shower and didn’t see your text!” More like “Sorry for living and maintaining a quality personal level of hygiene hun!”

So if you have taken anything from this, it’s to try not to overanalysing every single delayed response, lack of “xox” or “..” and instead of checking when they were “last active” get active yourself! You never know who you might meet. After all, you’re the only one who has control of your messy bun. So remind yourself of it.

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