In May last year, I became frustrated with the constant noise of What’s App. I decided to delete the app from my then-new phone for a few weeks and observe what would happen. I logged in a few weeks later, and this is what I found I had missed:
- A few 100 Good Morning messages
- Another equal number of Good Night messages
- Random messages on meeting up and going here and there from people I couldn’t care about – mainly old alumni groups
- An increasing number of videos that enriched my life in so many ways. All sarcasm intended
- A few “Are you there?” from a few concerned friends
That’s it. I looked at the above, and I realized that I don’t need to use this app anymore. I had become increasingly frustrated by the sheer immediacy of communication that the app provides, and the increasing isolation of such communication. True. It’s not What’s App’s fault. The creators of this app have done a wonderful job in bringing together a platform for people to communicate. But are we really using this app to communicate?
In June, I removed my account from What’s App, and I haven’t used it since then on my personal number. I do have a work phone that is for Trippin Traveller, and I have to use that for business communication with clients.
These days, I am often asked, “Are you on What’s App?”. When I smile and say no, they greet me with looks of disbelief. I might as well have said I walk around in the nude on Bangalore’s MG Road. “Why?” is the next question. I feel I am being grilled, and I steel myself.
I don’t have a ready answer because how do I explain to random strangers that I value communication and relationships so much that I choose not to use a medium that promises to enhance such communication? So, just as I stutter when people ask me why I am not married, I give evasive answers. I say, “Well, I see no need for it.” The person who asks me this is not convinced. And then, as if to explain their presence on the app, they become defensive and say, “I mainly use it to stay in touch with friends, and there is a family group, you know.” I nod. There are groups. I know that scourge all too well.
They become embarrassed by what they think is my judgement on their being on What’s App (as if I caught them surfing porn) and then try to say that What’s App is essential to convey to their family that they might be coming home late or that dinner is not ready. I nod even more. Sure. Generations since the 16th century have relied on What’s App to communicate precisely this. Now, don’t get me wrong. A tool that uses technology is only as useful as we allow it to be. My problem with What’s App is that it promotes artificial and shallow communication at the cost of what I can say is ‘real’ communication. What is real to me?
To pick up the phone and call. If you can use What’s App’s video or voice calling to do that, please do that!
To meet in person
There. That is real communication to me. Yes, we may not be able to fulfill that all the time. I am also notorious for not always picking up phone calls. Being off What’s App is making me change that. But I fear that we are getting more isolated than connected these days. We think that we are ‘friends’ because we ‘like’ each other’s posts on Facebook or Instagram. We place great importance on how we appear on social media, careful to shield all our warts and moles because we all have to participate in this giant illusion of happiness that social media seems to promote. On What’s App, I have observed a strange behavior called What’s Appitis. People who suffer from this exhibit the following:
They use What’s App or any other instant messaging app incessantly and lovingly. They can type long sentences and beautiful novels, can share minute details of their life, and seem wonderfully invested in you and your life. You love them. Then you meet them. This meeting doesn’t happen too often because What’s Appitis makes you content with just What’s Apping each other. When this rare meeting happens, they are often unable to tear themselves off their phone. They appear lost if you make them actually talk to you without the phone. Conversation is stilted because they have become used to the faceless medium of security that What’s App offers. They look away, into the distance, at anything but you.
After a number of such instances, I am now thankfully off What’s App. I use Skype to talk to my best friend and only a handful of close friends use my business What’s App number to communicate. I choose to give them that number because they are not in India and the chances of us meeting are rare. But me being off What’s App has made me realize that the people who really want to be in your life will be there, no matter what the medium. It has weeded away the “Good Morning” people who don’t care whether your morning is actually good or not, and it has given me more time to concentrate on what is of value to me rather than mindless videos. People now actually call or meet me. Not all of them, but the ones who as I said want me to be in their life. And the ones who dropped “out of touch” because of What’s App? Sad, but I think I feel more connected to the ones who really are my friends.
So, if you meet or talk to me for the first time, let’s converse. Let’s talk about our dreams and hopes, our pathetic vulnerabilities, and our immense possibilities. Let’s poke around the bushes of ordinariness, and let’s wear down our masks of social fallibilities. Let’s just talk, shall we?