The Power of "The Grext"
Ever wonder what life was like before group texting? Find out the social perks and obligations of everyone's familiar friend group, the "grext."
By Jess Bird
Ever since Apple rolled out iOS version 1.1.3 in 2008, group text chains have been both the root of social planning and content sharing for any array of people who have access to an iPhone. I went to high school in the Bay Area, and the term “grext” seemed to pop up around my Freshman year. All the sudden, if you weren’t in the grext, you were considered an outlier to the friend group. “Grext” didn't just signify a conversation anymore, but a social hierarchy formed on the basis of inclusion and exclusion. The creation of the grext allowed for seamlessly simple event planning, sharing of uplifting content and life updates, but it also fueled access to 24/7 gossip, and ultimately excluded anyone not in the thread— whether it be because you didn't have an iPhone, or you weren't considered worthy enough to be on the inside arena of a social friend group created by the tap of a screen.
I remember my first day at Scripps Orientation. There was an In-N-Out truck and all the Freshman sat on the lawn outside of Malott. I had engaged with a handful of new students in my dorm, and recognized a few other girls from our class Facebook page (a page which we all somehow denied posting to), but nevertheless, almost everyone still felt like a stranger. So, I grew the courage to sit down with the biggest group I could find and ate my double-double in peace while attempting to engage in conversation. We chatted, bonded to some degree, and by the end of lunch one of the girls pulled out her phone and created a grext called “Scripps Squad” with a squirrel emoji, of course. The next thing I know, I’m shouting my number across the circle like I had just won the lottery. Would these be my friends for the rest of college? Is it that easy?
The first week of school, the grext was blowing up with plans to go to dinner, shopping in the village, gossip about professors, where to pregame for 6:01, etc. Meanwhile, I was still attempting to identify my new friends by the area codes that popped up on my screen, because god forbid I ask for their name twice. Having a grext was comforting to say the least, but people began to leave the conversation and dwindle out. I texted plans to hang a few times, but eventually, everyone stopped responding. A few weeks in, after attempting to socially coordinate a friend group for myself, I came to the realization—there was probably a new group text, and I wasn't in it. Had I been ousted from the friend group, or did everyone branch off on their own paths?
To this day, I’m still not in a group text in college. I don't have consistent people to text “where are we sitting” every lunch like I did in high school, assuming I would see the same people every day. Our group text allowed for us to be a consistent part of each other’s lives. It also created a space where I could have people who knew my every emotion day in and day out, reassuring that I could have plans on the weekend without having to go too far out of my way. The grext wasn't just a text, it was my promise for social interaction. Not being a part of a grext in college has been lonely for sure, but it’s also encouraged me to initiate hanging out with people from all across the board, from different friend groups to different colleges, and this has actually been a pivotal source of growth in my college experience. Nevertheless, it has also been a huge source of anxiety for me.
Nicole Amesbury, Head of Clinical Development for the online therapy service Talkspace, says that, “One of the reasons that group texting works is because it can give the person with anxiety a great deal of freedom and control in how they participate, which is empowering. This can be used as a springboard to off-line situations in a way where fears are tackled with varying levels of exposure.” The quality of a person’s group text experience is predicated on the following variables: 1) the content of the messages, 2) the people in the group text and 3) the platform the group is using. If the messages are primarily for planning things, rather than merely chatting to fill a social void, the grext will have less of a social effect.
Nevertheless, Dr. Amesbury believes that the positive psychological benefits of group texting outweigh the negative, arguing, “Human evolution shows very clearly that our brains evolved in a social context so that we develop the ability to give and receive emotional support and care through social means. Both neuroscience and evolutionary theory support that we interact socially as a means to improve our well-being. Whether this is done via text or in face-to-face interactions is not as important as how and what we choose to share with others.” In other words, it’s better to connect through text than to never connect at all. And for those moments when the buzzing just won’t stop, there’s always the ability to opt out.
Group texts also offer a way of organizing your friends into different social spheres. You have your day friends and your drunk friends, your brunch gals and your library pals. Having multiple group texts allows for seamless social cohesion, but it also inherently keeps your friends bound by to the association of the grext, making it difficult to hop from one sphere of your social life to the next, and keeping the people you surround yourself with rather redundant. For example, you have the same group of friends you text to get lunch during the week, but when does that friend leave the “meal zone”? Group texts force us to automatically sort the people in our lives into the categories that are most consistent or convenient for us, when sometimes we forget that mixing up the group of people in a message can allow for a whole new perspective of inclusivity.
I’m still in my same grext with my high school friends, and it lights up my screen almost every day, offering me a feeling of inclusion and comfort when I need it most. I love seeing life updates from my friends and having a space to talk to people whenever I'm feeling lonely or excited to share something about my life. But after being without one for the last few years, I’ve already realized the power they have to exclude. When used as the primary means of social interaction or as a safety net to say things we wouldn't be able to say out loud, these types of online group interactions allow for an imagined community to be created on the basis of a rather deceptive privacy, while also being inherently exclusive.