Texting yourself sounds weird until you try it. Then it becomes indispensable. For a while now, my highest-volume messaging conversation has been with myself (which sounds sad now that I say it, but we’ll leave that for another day), and it has become a key part of how I live my digital life.
To be clear, I’m not texting with the voices in my head. I’m using my messaging app the way millions of people use their email — to send myself quick notes, reminders, links, photos, and stuff I need to be able to get to later. It all becomes searchable, available across devices, and accessible in the same app that’s already in my dock and opened a hundred times a day to chat with friends and family.
Texting yourself is a pretty good life hack and, increasingly, a feature of messaging apps. WhatsApp is the latest messaging service to jump on the self-chat train: it’s rolling out a new “Message Yourself” feature that puts your own contact at the top of the list when you go to start a new chat. Start that chat, pin it to the top, and message away.
Lots of other chat apps have a similar feature, too. You can message yourself in Slack and Microsoft Teams. Signal’s Note to Self works much like the new WhatsApp feature. You can accomplish the same thing in Discord by starting a group chat and not inviting anybody. You can message yourself in Facebook Messenger and on Instagram as well as in Apple and Google’s Messages apps.
Most of these features exist for the same reason: to make it easy to access stuff between devices. It’s 2022, and it’s still shockingly hard to move a photo from your Windows PC to your iPad or get a link you found on your computer onto your phone. You can use Apple’s (fun but finicky) Universal Clipboard feature or rig up some absurd IFTTT system. Or you can do what most people do and just send yourself an email.
Switching that process to a messaging app makes it go faster — tap the contact, paste the link, hit send. Messaging apps tend to integrate well with your phone’s share menu, which makes the process even easier. And bonus: you’re not stuck with a million “No Subject” emails in your inbox at the end of it. In apps like Signal and WhatsApp, your messages are also encrypted, which means your messaging monologue is truly for your eyes only.
There’s only one downside to the self-chat life: messaging apps are an organizational nightmare. All the simplicity of a chat window can become a pain when what you actually need to find is that one link from six months ago. A few platforms, like Slack and WhatsApp, will let you search within your self-chat, which is handy; you can also tap on your contact at the top of Apple Messages and then scroll down to see all the links you’ve shared with yourself. Right now, though, I can text myself reminders all day, but my messaging app won’t actually remind me. And it should.
The next step for all these platforms will be to figure out ways to make self-chat more useful. Users have long resisted apps intruding on their chats. (Remember Allo, where the Google Assistant would burst in like a caffeinated hybrid of Clippy and the Kool-Aid Man and say, “It sounds like you’re trying to buy movie tickets. Here are some movie tickets!”?) But these notes to self seem ripe for some automated assistance. Slack is the most advanced in this regard: you can use your self-chat to set reminders, manage your calendar, switch your status, and much more.
The next step for all these platforms will be to figure out ways to make self-chat more useful
Messages in general are becoming a more powerful input tool. As every platform tries to achieve the all-consuming usage of apps like WeChat, everyone (including Elon Musk’s Twitter) is trying to turn messaging into more than texting. They’re all eager to get you messaging with businesses and are putting everything from catalogs to customer service into the chat window. Apps like Mem are using messengers as capture tools, making it easy not only to get stuff into your chat app but also out of it as well. The chat window is a hugely powerful, versatile tool, and companies of all kinds are trying to figure out how to do more with it — ideally without adding a million pop-ups and menus that make it impossible to actually chat with your friends.
If you’re ready for the self-chat revolution, my recommendation is to pick one platform, probably the messaging platform you’re already using most, and just start a chat with yourself. (If you’re trying to choose between a few, pick an encrypted one like Signal or WhatsApp.) Whenever you see a TikTok you love, remember what you need to buy at the grocery store tonight, find a recipe you want to try this weekend, or snap a photo you want to retouch and share next week, just hit the share button and text it to yourself. That chat window will become your favorite place to go before you know it, and you’ll never find a faster way to make sure all the links and info you need are accessible everywhere. But also: if you starts texting you back, run.