It’s the day of the primaries in New York and my dad has a question.
“Who voted?” he texts us — us being me, my mom, my brother, and my sister.
“Just did!” my brother replies, while I quickly text back that I plan on heading over to the polls at lunch.
“So glad I raised upstanding citizens,” my dad texts.
“What about Lucy?” I ask. My bet is my 20-year-old sister did not vote.
I’m right. “No,” she replies.
Then my dad sends a bitmoji — a cartoon picture that’s supposed to look like him, built into his keyboard so it’s as nearly as easy to access as emoji or the letters of the alphabet. In this particular version of my dad’s bitmoji, the cartoon is rolling his eyes, and the word “rude” is spelled out in big bubble letters over his head.
My mom texts a picture of Petey, our dog, who is sleeping. Petey is often sleeping.
We’ve had our group family text message up and running for a few months, maybe longer. It began informally: We all were trying to coordinate Thanksgiving plans and it was easier for my parents to have the, “So, when are you coming home and when are you leaving?” talk just once. One of us labeled the text chain “iMossage” (like iMessage but our last name is Moss, get it?) and it’s been in effect (and bustling!) ever since.
And this is how we keep in touch now — at least as a family unit. It used to be a conversation had around the dinner table, but now my siblings and I are out of the house — Ben and I live in Brooklyn while Lucy is a sophomore at the University of Delaware. When my mom got an iPhone about a year ago, the family group text became the dinner table chatter we no longer had and desperately missed — a way for us to provide mini, often banal updates about the intricacies of our lives without having to schedule a family dinner.
But, like anything else familial, the family text has its downfalls. Lizzie O’Leary, host of American Public Media’s Marketplace Weekend, says her family’s group text can be an ongoing conversation she would like to check out of. Sure, there’s a mute function, but unlike real life, you can’t just leave the room. “Sometimes I just reply ‘unsubscribe,’” she says of the text she shares with her mother, two brothers, and sister-and-law — who all often get into back-and-forths on the family group text spanning dozens of messages.
Kelly*, a 24-year-old from Manhattan, jokes that as a C.O.D. (“child of divorce”) she gets the joy of being in two family text groups: one with her mom and sister and one with her dad and sister. But the craziest group text of all, she says, is the one she has with her extended family.
“Three of my mother’s siblings, their spouses, and about seven cousins,” Kelly explains.
Both O’Leary and Kelly used the word “nightmare” to describe the worst part of the family group text — when your family is engaged in an active conversation and you’re in a meeting, or on a date, or just trying to sleep. And your phone will not stop going off.
“For my family, no hours are off-limits,” O’Leary says.
For Kelly, the group text can get insane thanks to her family’s divergent levels of tech savvy.
“Some of my aunts and uncles [with Androids] get the messages one at a time and respond like they are private messages,” Kelly sighed. “Like, ‘Congrats on the new job, sweetheart. I am so proud of you and all you’ve accomplished [insert seventeen different cat emoji].’ ”
On the plus side, though, a family group text can function as a private, loving Facebook newsfeed. Ben resigned the lease on his apartment! Lucy finished her last final! I bought a grill for my patio! Petey is still sleeping. In the case of iMossage, none of us are expecting an immediate response like we would if we were texting a friend or significant other. If one family member seems more interested than others, we take it to a one-on-one conversation. The group text can be a void in which to send the most mundane updates of our lives—the updates only your family would give a shit about.
If we didn’t have the family text, we’d still hear about these tiny moments of each other’s lives via a go-between messenger — my mother. She’d be the one delivering the news, and that makes sense — this new way to communicate, easily, the goings-on of our lives, makes me realize I actually enjoy hearing what my siblings and parents are up to, and the ability to react to those events in real time instead of through the convoluted grapevine. Now, when Lucy pings us all to let us know there’s an HD version of her sorority airband video on YouTube, I can react appropriately, and immediately: with a Bitmoji signaling I don’t know wtf an airband video is.
Plus, when everyone’s on board, the family text is just way easier.
“It works well for logistical stuff,” O’Leary said of her family text. When she had to have an emergency surgery, she adds, it was a relief to have one place to communicate with her entire family.
“We are all up in each other’s business a lot. But in a loving way.”
Caroline Moss is a writer and former deputy culture editor at Business Insider. You can see her work in Cosmopolitan, The Hairpin, New York Magazine and The New York Times.