Why can’t you unsend a text?


Why can’t you unsend a text?

In: Technology

The way texting works is sort of like when mail is delivered to someone’s home that has a drop box. It’s carried there by someone and put in to a box that nobody but the owner has the ability to access.

Modern apps that do allow for message removal work by keeping all the information on a central server that whatever company that runs it can choose what information is deleted or not.

Almost everything these days is stored on a remote server and accessed through your device.

With texting, and with old email systems, once the message is delivered, it’s deleted from the server that hosted it. This means the ONLY PLACE where that message continues to exist, aside from the copy on the sender’s side, is on the recipient’s device.

When you “unsend” a message from a chat service, you are leveraging the fact that the message only exists in a shared location that you, the sender, can remove things from. For texts, no such location exists, so the message cannot be unsent.

Older internet technologies like SMS (simple message system) and SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) are essentially just conduits for a message. The message only ever lives in one place at one time. The protocols job is to initiate and validate a handshake between the sender’s tech and the receiver’s tech to make sure the message gets sent. This older technology was never designed to do anything other than just transfer a message from one IP to another.

On a side note, when developers were creating the protocol for scanners, they called it TWAIN. (Thing without an interesting name)

You can’t un-ring a bell. SMS is the bell.

You can reel a fishing line back in. Fishing line is IM services or similar.

Sending a text means copying a message from the sender to the recipient. Unsending a text would mean deleting that message from the recipient – for example by sending a second message saying “hey, delete that first message”. This *is* technically possible. A lot of chat protocols do allow you to unsend texts, especially within a given period.

It does require that the recipient remains connected to the internet, though. If you send something and they go offline, you can no longer contact them, so you can’t tell them to delete the first message any more.