A few months ago, my dad texted me a strange scribble, which I thought looked a bit like a knife sharing the canvas with a dot. A co-worker disagreed: She thought it resembled “the index finger of God … pointing down at a peon as if to punish them.” We were both wrong, of course: It was a butt drawing. Not a drawing of a butt, but a drawing by a butt.
It took me a while to identify my dad’s rear, rather than his conscious self, as the artist behind the scribble, because in-message drawings are a relatively new addition to the iPhone’s stable of tricks. Digital Touch, the feature that allows users to create drawings and share them in iMessage, became available to iPhone users last year with the release of iOS 10. There was some grumbling upon its initial release about how easy it was to inadvertently send drawings, among other problems, which led Apple to remove the feature from the iMessage app in iOS 11. But this patch has yet to benefit people in their 60s like my father (hi, Dad!), who are only just now getting around to (mis)using these drawings and who will probably buy new phones before they actively choose to update their operating systems.
Back when all phones did was make calls, our fears of accidental communication were limited to the butt dial, the call your phone might mistakenly make when its buttons were somehow triggered while the device was sitting in your back pants pocket, thus subjecting the poor schmo on the other end to the ambient sounds of you obliviously going about your day. (Butt dialing, of course, being a hopelessly male-centric term: Women don’t typically carry their phones in their back pockets. But deep recesses of a tote bag dial just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) Now that the proliferation of smartphone features has expanded our avenues for communicating with each other almost exponentially, the number of digital gaffes we can blame on our backsides—or even just the fumbling of our fingers—has also ballooned. And it seems like not even locked screens can stop them.
Just think: In addition to the butt dial and the butt drawing, there’s the butt text. There’s also the butt voice text, which for some reason always seems to get sent to the person you’re griping about in said voice text rather than someone you wouldn’t mind hearing it. Butts are forever trying to FaceTime people we (or at least our brains) don’t want to FaceTime, generally at times when we don’t want to FaceTime anyone. Another one of my co-workers told me that her father frequently butt sends his location to her. (“It’s always either our house or the golf course.”) I haven’t heard stories about butt Ubering or butt Venmoing, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
A butt dial or butt text is really no one’s fault—blame it on the wind, the swivel of your hips, the rustling in your purse. In this way, a butt message can be a serendipitous thing, an unexpected hello from someone you like. On a web whose gravitational center is now the social media feeds where, consciously or not, we’re all performing all the time, our accidental missives provide refreshingly unforced glimpses of humanity and vulnerability: Ha, you, too, have a butt. So when close friends or family members send me a notification that clearly came from their posteriors, I must admit I usually find it endearing. When a butt communiqué moves out of the realm of one’s nearest and dearest, though, the chances of it being embarrassing, and uniquely so, tend to increase.
Each butt dial sets off a kind of awkwardness meter, forcing you to evaluate the terms of your relationship with the person your butt has dialed. If the butt dial isn’t awkward, congrats, laugh it off! If it is … well, there you go. It’s somewhat akin to another social media behavior, the “deep like,” which is when you accidentally hit the like button on an old post, thus notifying the owner of a feed that you’ve scrolled back really far in his or her timeline, which is universally considered creepy even though everyone does it from time to time. In both interactions, you’re reminding someone of your existence in an ultra-specific way, and even though your existence alone shouldn’t be grounds for humiliation, sometimes it just is. All of these online faux pas lay bare the unspoken truth that some connections on our social map are looser than others. Who knew the ties that bind could be so clearly defined by our derrières? It may be a butt dial, but it’s also a wake-up call.