We are midway through January, which means most of us have wholly abandoned any goals for self-improvement that we drunkenly declared on New Year’s Eve. But if there’s just one thing you do differently this year, set expiration dates on your iMessages.
Perhaps you’re not familiar with this feature, which was added in Apple’s iOS 8 overhaul last year. If you’ve downloaded iOS 8, visit Settings and then Messages. You’ll arrive at a section titled Message History, which then gives you the option to keep your messages for 30 days, a year, or forever.
Now, are you ready for this? Select 30 days, save the settings, and never look back.
(In Android, you can go to your Messaging app, Settings, and go to the Delete Old Messages feature. Then you can set the limit manually for picture messages and regular texts.)
I know what you might be thinking: But what about the memories? Screw the memories! Here are the many reasons this is the smartest possible thing you can do with your iMessages.
1. You won’t be reminded of unfortunate Tinder choices.
Let’s face it: We’ve all made poor dating decisions from time to time. And these very likely resulted in an awkward digital conversation you would prefer to forget. This includes forced flirty banter, an excessive use of emoji to fill empty space, and an overall reminder that you may have lowered your standards for romantic company. In the past, I’ve just let these kind of texts get pushed down to the bottom of my message history, into oblivion. But it’s better if they just go away forever, especially so that there’s no reminder that you once feigned interest if they dial you up months later.
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2. It’s easier to keep secrets.
Look, if you are carrying on an extensive affair or spying on the U.S. government, enabling this feature won’t be enough to protect your wild and crazy lifestyle. But automatically clearing your texting history every 30 days can help you avoid getting in trouble if your phone slips into the wrong hands. Maybe your jealous lover finds one semi-flirtatious text with an old flame and freaks out. Or a thief scans for password info you forwarded to your mom. With this system in place, you don’t have to worry about that. And it might also make you feel like a super stealthy ninja.
3. You’ll avoid the painful burn of a bad breakup.
As Laurence and Jessica Jacobs demonstrated in their 11-minute short film “Life in Text,” running through your iMessage history can detail the entire emotional arc of a relationship. Pre-smartphone era, we didn’t have these digital love notes to pour over post-split. And, honestly, it was probably healthier to just sit down with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, cry about it, and move on.
But with access to your own personal conversational archive with your ex, you can parse over weeks, months, years of exchanges. Latching onto snippets of conversation and asking friends to read them is just destructive. People say things and then change their minds. Let those old texts die along with the relationship.
4. It’ll make your phone a lot faster.
Of all the apps you use on your smartphone, Messages is probably one of the most poppin’. And because you use it so much, you’ve probably amassed a pretty huge collection of histories with contacts you regularly text. Enabling a 30-day purge can free up space and make the app work faster. I mean, that’s just practical.
5. It protects you from the cops.
Though the Supreme Court recently ruled that police can’t search your phone without a warrant first, they haven’t always been known to follow the rules. Maybe you’ve been stealing cable, organizing an illegal gambling ring, or … doing drugs? Whatever it is, it’s best kept secret if you get pulled over for a speeding ticket.
6. There’s something freeing about it.
One time my close friend, whom I text with constantly, accidentally deleted our entire Messages history. She was very upset, she told me, because it felt like a psychological loss, as if she neglected to preserve an important part of our friendship.
That’s kind of ridiculous! Especially because she never looked back at our conversations. And, besides, they were basically blind items of gossip, links to Twitter conversations and articles about cute otters. What we later realized is that there was a weird psychological weight — sort of like a person who keeps every New Yorker she hasn’t finished — about being responsible for a “friendship archive.” Having an automated tool that removes it keeps the clutter out, and it won’t make you feel guilty if you lose something, either.
Self-explanatory if you’ve ever scrolled through an old conversation and landed on an appendage.