Ten years ago, if I had flipped opened my pink Razr phone and saw I had 67 new message notifications waiting, I would have immediately assumed I was the world's most popular high school sophomore.
(I should have been calculating how much I owed my parents at 10 cents a text, but at 15 years old and with over 50 unread messages, the duration of the billing cycle would last for eternity as far as I was concerned. It was nothing a little babysitting couldn't pay for.)
Fast-forward to 2016.
I have been away from my iPhone for a little over 45 minutes while sipping coffee and grading papers.
I grab my phone as I head to top off my mug, and I see it: You have 67 message notifications.
I have one thought and one thought alone.
Being extraordinarily popular never crosses my mind. It's the group text.
Let me begin by saying I am not against the group text.
When used appropriately, I find it practical, entertaining, logical and extremely efficient.
I currently have 52 separate group conversations in my phone that house various combinations of the same people.
When used properly, the group message serves a wonderful purpose in our fast-paced, streamlined and communicative world.
It's a giant instant message chatroom at your fingertips at all times.
My AOL Instant Messenger persona, JenBen402, would have been shrieking in delight at the thought of this type of technology.
Group messages can be great.
However, they are getting a bad reputation due to reckless use and careless abuse.
If we, as a society, can agree to follow a list of simple, straightforward guidelines, I firmly believe we can change the way the world sees group texts.
We can then grow to appreciate them for what they are.
1. A group text is for necessities, not pleasantries.
Does my text serve some sort of purpose for everyone involved?
This could be a mission to entertain or solely the means to relay vital information.
Regardless, it needs to have a purpose.
Saying, "Thank you!" is not a purpose. A confirmation of, "Got it!" is not necessary.
A group text is no place for pleasantries and manners.
No one wants to read seven people saying, "Thank you!"
Hey guys! The party starts at 7, and my address is 1122 Hall St. Excited to see you all tonight!
An incorrect way to respond to this message is to respond at all.
Do not say, "See you then!" or "I might be a few minutes late!"
If you have a comment, question or concern, text the party host directly.
2. The topic must be relevant to everyone in the group.
Not only is being relevant an important rule, but the text also needs to be relevant to every person in the group.
I made this mistake the day before Thanksgiving when I created a 15-person family group message.
The purpose was to choose songs for Christmas karaoke the next day, but I had forgotten one of the members of the family would not be in town for our Thanksgiving Day musical celebration.
My poor cousin had to watch her phone light up every 10 seconds as a different family member called dibs on "Carol Of The Bells" or "Little Drummer Boy" for hours on end.
She eventually left the conversation with a swift, "Goodbye," but I had made a major mistake.
I might have tainted her view of group messages for life, based on one small oversight.
The message needs to relate to everyone in the group.
On very rare occasions should you single someone out and ask specific questions within the conversation.
There should be a harmonious flow of equality, where each recipient feels valued and part of the exchange.
Sarah, how is the wedding planning going?
This is not a question for a group text.
This is a question for Sarah. Please text Sarah and ask her.
3. Don't push the boundaries of your relationships.
Are you sharing personal or family anecdotes with colleagues you only talk to in passing?
Are you sharing the results of your doctor's appointment in a message that has four numbers you don't have stored on your phone?
You need to match the level of closeness to the things you're saying.
A group text is not a place to make friends, and it is certainly not a place for you to become vulnerable and attempt to deepen your relationship with nine of your co-workers.
4. Be socially appropriate.
Do you want to be wished a happy birthday within the confines of a group message? No.
A group text is no place for individual well-wishes or personal congratulations.
The socially appropriate and respectful thing to do would be to send a separate, private text message to the person you are wishing a happy birthday to.
Why on earth would you ever want to do this in a group message?
To show the others you remembered?
I would rather not be wished a happy birthday than receive it in a group text message.
5. Make sure it's worth it.
A group text is an inconvenience to most, so the topic and message needs to be worth it for the reader.
When the recipient looks down at his or her phone and becomes suddenly overwhelmed by 40 new messages, will this conversation be worth the time it takes for him or her to scroll up and catch up on everything he or she may have missed?
If it is something you can tell the person in 15 minutes when you see him or her at the gym, wait.
Spare the text. Use group texts delicately and in moderation.
6. Remember the original purpose.
One of the most dangerous elements of a group text is the ability to quickly lose control of a well-meaning, purpose-driven conversation.
Suddenly, seven people are communicating at once about their niece's recital, putting the cat down and what happened in last night's episode.
The thing is, the original purpose was to find out if there was a staff meeting in the morning.
Whoever originates the message is responsible for facilitating and maintaining the conversation.
If you are the facilitator and you notice things have derailed, it is your responsibility to bring the conversation to a close.
As straightforward as these guidelines may seem, there are always exceptions.
For example, I have been part of a group message for the past two months.
There is non-stop communication that would seem to break all of my six rules.
These types of conversations can be beautiful things, but one must understand that every member of the message has to be fully committed to it.
In very rare, special cases, you can throw the guidelines to the wind and communicate 24/7 with various individuals about anything you want.
In many cases, this may be an unwritten agreement.
But in others, you may need to consult with them to get the green light.
To keep it short, sweet and easily accessible, I have condensed the previous points into user-friendly questions.
These six questions are ones you can ask yourself before hitting send on a group text message:
1. Is this necessary?
2. Is this relevant?
3. Is this fitting for the relationship I have with these people?
4. Is this socially appropriate?
5. Is this worth it?
6. Have we fallen far from the original purpose?
Remember the six guidelines, and happy (group) texting.