I collect text messages. I’ve done this for as long as I’ve had a smartphone. I know I will probably never look at many of these little screenshots of contextless conversations again. However, I still feel a responsibility to memorialize conversations that could easily be forgotten in our fast-paced, digitally evolving world.
When I look back on these conversations, they bring me more joy or make me laugh harder than most in-person conversations. More often than not, though, I do not look back on these conversations at all. They end up in the ever-growing but hardly checked “screenshots” folder of my phone, to be forgotten.
I like to compare this collection to the other long-forgotten section of my camera roll: concerts, which hold hundreds of long recordings, waiting to be watched. Unlike these videos that I would pridefully post once to social media and then let sit in my camera roll to show others if they asked, I never intend to show these texts to other people. They are personal anecdotes, stories meant just for me.
I also like to think of these conversations as a sort of time capsule, a snapshot of a friendship at a specific moment in time during a specific event. To me, the most important of these are the bygone friendships.
While searching through years’ worth of screenshots for this piece, I stumbled across a 2017 text thread, which I have not included here — mostly because the quality of my terribly ancient HTC phone is abysmal — between me and one of my closest high school friends. Prior to my senior year of high school, I devoted the vast majority of my time to our wind symphony. Most of my friends were a part of that group; it was the glue that held us together. We always had the same lunch period; we would get coffee after class and before marching band practice; we looked forward to spending those indescribable moments before getting on stage for a performance together. Our passions were perfectly intertwined.
However, between my junior and senior years, I had a disastrous disagreement with my band director — the kind of disagreement where the only way I could finish my last year of high school with some sort of mental stability was to drop the class. With such a huge part of life that my friends and I shared no longer applicable to me, it was only inevitable that I started to grow away from them.
Discovering that message thread took me back to the moments with that friend before our falling-out. We had grown apart, yes, but we had also developed a sort of rivalry that eventually culminated in a few television-esque teenage girl fights outside of the band room. It didn’t help that my mental health was the worst it had ever been that year, any emotion that wasn’t apathy snapping instantly to anger — and pre-therapy me didn’t know what to do with that. It came out in me very often feeling irrational hatred towards my friends. Looking back, they had every right to stop inviting me to after-school coffee runs and pre-football game hangouts.
However, seeing those messages, I was reminded of the nights before homecoming when we would stay up until 4 a.m. and watch terrible TV shows. I was reminded of the afternoons we’d spend at Sportsman’s Pub eating cheap appetizers before football games. I was reminded of the conversations over lunch at tables that were falling apart, my cackle echoing through the cafeteria at something she’d said. They were moments that I still treasure, and even though I can never have them back, I can still hold onto the feelings I experienced during that time. It is a reminder that those moments happened.
Other saved threads bring up emotions that are still quite raw. About a day after I started writing this piece, I had a major falling out with two really close friends. I had already attached the screenshots of the text threads I was planning on writing about, and a few of them were from one of those people. Seeing those threads and remembering those conversations sent a shock wave of emotions through me.
Suddenly, I was reminded that those moments were over. I was never going to send or receive late-night texts from that person again. I was never going to be able to tell them a random tangent in between my classes again. I couldn’t look at those messages and appreciate the time I’d had with that person because I was — and still am — grieving the loss of that relationship.
I hope that one day I will be able to look back on these threads and appreciate the times I did spend with that person. I can look back fondly on the times we went out to get bubble tea in a snowstorm together. Or the picnics we had on the Diag at the end of last summer. Or spontaneously deciding to bake cookies in her kitchen at 10 p.m. when we both had classes the next morning. I can cherish the reminder of an important friendship and a pivotal time in my life. But still, as I look at these messages and try to format this column, it hurts. I think it will continue to hurt for a long time.
I don’t know what that says about holding on to these conversations; if they cause pain, what is the point in holding on to them? I can’t be certain that I’ll ever be able to look back on them happily. I can’t be certain that one day I’ll be able to look back on these memories fondly and appreciate those times. Just because I have been able to in the past doesn’t necessarily mean it will be the same this time.
Perhaps it is the finality of deleting them that I don’t want to face. If the messages are gone, what is the proof that the relationship even happened? I don’t think those are questions I’m ready to answer yet.
There are also the conversations I’ve kept between myself and some of my closest, longest-lasting friends that I think exemplify the type of relationship I have with those people. Snippets that perfectly describe a dynamic; no further context needed. To me, these screenshots are the most precious. They are the ones I would never even need to check who I had sent the message to; I would just know.
And maybe that says a bit about how I am as a person, the different personas I take on when I am around different people. Whether we realize it or not, we can change bits of ourselves around different people: show certain sides to some that we wouldn’t show to others. As exemplified in the last text thread, I will tell anyone and everyone about my belief in the parallel universe theory; however, if anyone besides one specific person asks me about a “goatcoaster,” I will simply refuse to give them an answer. Maybe it is this view of myself from these different angles that makes me want to keep these conversations.
Maybe it is a question of history. We create different facades of ourselves depending upon what those other people have already seen, and the way we talk to those people is a product of that. And I save those conversations because there is a sort of self-awareness that comes along with this; if I can understand who I am with others, maybe I can better understand who I am alone. These images are a concrete visualization of this.
Maybe it is memorialization, freezing specific moments in time in order to return to them in some way. Notably, I do not have any sad or upsetting conversations saved, instances where I am comforting friends or they are comforting me. I do not save fights or arguments I’ve had over text. Those are not the moments I want to remember or look back on. The screenshots help preserve the good moments in relationships, the moments that remind me that even if that person is no longer in my life, we had at some point cared for each other.
Maybe having physical proof of the past is comforting to me; knowing I had such important people in my life makes me confident that it will happen again. Saving conversations with current friends reminds me how much I love them, and how lucky I am to have them.
Or maybe I am just really nosy and by publishing a few of my own out-of-context conversations, other people will choose to show me theirs. Conversations I will not be able to understand, but still convey a certain level of intimacy I can appreciate.
That being said, if we meet on campus this fall, please show me your most bizarre saved conversation. I won’t ask you to explain.
Statement columnist Mackenzie Hubbard can be reached at email@example.com.