WhatsApp: Staying In Touch Or Keeping Us Out Of Touch?

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Back in the 90s
Back in the 90s
Tayo Jisi

As an 80s baby, 90s kid, I spent a lot of time on the landline. It had a chord and everything! The only way to keep abreast of local gossip or whatever else, was to pick up the phone, dial a number and talk.

If the call suddenly turned into an interrogation, as it often does with school girls, or if your crush called you out of the blue, you had to think on your feet. There was no time to create a well written, articulate and charismatic response if you were actually a nervous, bumbling weirdo (as I was).

Then mobile phones became more accessible, trendy, and smaller. I found myself in possession of a second-hand Nokia 3210: a phone with buttons and no apps. There was a great game called Snakes though, and you could create or download a keyboard jingle ringtone of Nelly and Kelly’s Dilemma. Oh, and you could text people now…

Texts made things easier; we could communicate in short form, in an instant, make arrangements, send and receive break-up messages… and condolences.

Conversation became a lot less personal and- with the absence of tone -a paradigm of miscommunication ensued.

Now we have WhatsApp. But is WhatsApp and similar instant messenger apps taking us further down the rabbit hole?

We buy phone contracts with unlimited texts included and chose to pay, albeit a minuscule amount, for an instant messenger app so we can pretend that we didn’t see the messages from the same people who were texting us from before.

These days, if my phone starts ringing I’ll look at it with wild spiral eyes, “What the hell is it doing? Who uses their phone to call somebody in 2016?!”

What are we doing?

We love making instant connections…but, not really. A lot of us ignore our WhatsApp notifications; you can turn off those pesky blue ticks to give the illusion that you haven’t read anything at all. Perfect, no?

Except, we know that people do this. In fact, many of us talk openly about it whilst in the company of the same people we were ignoring. That’s how I found out, it’s not even a good secret!

We shriek in horror at “143 messages.” My friends and I have an inside joke, “Where’s the fire??” because surely a fire is the only reason for 100+ messages in under an hour.

Okay, so there’s a few people who you just can’t talk to over the phone. Thing is, if you’re constantly avoiding speaking to a particular person, why is that? Why are they in your list of contacts if you are not making yourself, well… contactable?

With WhatsApp you’re often talking to several people throughout the day, but it can also be used as a way to maintain the pretence that everything’s fine when it’s not, and that, my friend, is a slippery slope. Or maybe, you’re not quite sure how or when it happened, but WhatsApp has joined an assembly of other apps whose notifications can’t be ignored. It was for me.

I was on it when I woke up, as I walked to the tube station, when I should’ve been writing or creating, when I was on the way back home, while I was eating, while I was watching Netflix, and just before I went to bed.

That’s an insane amount of time spent looking down.

So I took a break.

I’ve done the same with social media in the past: a break helped me to remember that life still operates as usual without these things.

I still exist even if my online presence does not.

I can still communicate without an app.

Although many of us have grown up without these things, we have been conditioned into thinking that we can’t do without them.

Now I’m not trying to stage a coup against Whatsapp. It’s a cool app that’s not without it’s benefits. It’s an inexpensive way of keeping in regular contact with friends and family in distant locations. There’s been group chats with messages and photos that have literally made me laugh out loud.

Interacting with others this way has at times pulled me out of myself, and I personally think that I’m perfectly charming on WhatsApp to 3/5 group chats at 2am on a Saturday night, after a few shots of Patron.

It’s about finding balance. Using your phone to make a phone call shouldn’t feel weird.

WhatsApp and instant messaging is great when it’s complimented by another form of communication -preferably where you can hear or see the person you’re engaging with - rather than as a substitute.

Instead of throwing my phone across the room when someone calls, I’ll instead think how awesome it is that they’ve taken time away from other distractions to hear me talk. That’s a pretty sweet notion when you think of it.

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