Sometime in early 2014, I was added to a new WhatsApp group by someone at work. It had around 40 members, if I remember correctly. There was nothing in common to these 40 people. It spanned across teams, projects, and designations. The only thing we all had in common was that we all worked on the same technology in the Mumbai office. It wasn’t for any work-related topic. In other words, it served absolutely no clear purpose.
So I exited the group the next day. I waited a day to make it a tad less impolite for the person who added me.
I can imagine a sea of eyes widening in shock at this blasphemy. You’re right, how dare I, for giving in to reason as opposed to social obligation.
My intention is not to simply say something crass as ‘I hate WhatsApp groups’ from the bottom of my heart (I do hate them though). It is to implore you, to help me understand.
In fairness, I recognize the following as legit purposes of being part of a group:
- Clearly defined topic of discussion: The one and only group I absolutely love being a part of is that of Manchester United fans from Thapar University, my alma mater. Most of us actively participate with football news during the week, share our opinions, and most importantly our feelings during the match itself. Even though we have become a well-knit group over the years, but personal matters rarely surface on the group. And this is an unspoken understanding.
- On-the-go updates: While I was in Mumbai, my flatmates and I used our group to update expense details that were to be divided among everyone later. And temporary groups are quite useful in facilitating meetings and parties.
- Urgent information: Particularly useful during unforeseen emergencies, one example being that exchange students shared necessary information after the Paris attacks.
Here are the things I don’t understand:
- Meta-shit: What would you call the part of your brain that stores who liked whose picture, who commented what on whose post on Facebook? I call it shit. We all have it. But what do you call it when people actually discuss these likes and comments on WhatsApp groups? Now that is shit about shit, or Metashit.
- Wishing birthdays: Why would you wish me or anyone on a group? What is wrong with typing the same message in a personal text to the same person? Oh, you aren’t that close? Harmless though it undoubtedly is, but I see absolutely zero value in a birthday wish from someone who’s never even looked me in the eye. It gets more inexplicable when people do it as a social obligation, even though they’ve already wished in person.
- How it impacts real life connections: The closest parallel I can draw is that of class participation, where the number of times you speak up directly impacts your grade (regardless of what you have learnt, because feigning confidence is more important). I’m not the kind of person who would speak up a lot among a group of friends, unless they are a special circle where meaningful conversation is valued. This extends on to WhatsApp groups, as serious conversation becomes near-extinct. So personal texts are the only way I keep in touch. Hence, recently:
- I wasn’t asked about contributing towards a friend’s wedding gift,
- Wasn’t invited to another friend’s wedding,
- People who I thought were my friends are drawing away one by one, and are suddenly cheek-to-cheek with those showing high group participation. (though they didn’t have any such bond in real life. Exactly like Class participation, see?)
All the above cases are a result of my passive presence in groups, or having exited them. And don’t think I don’t know how childish and jealous the last point sounds. You’d probably tell me these people aren’t real friends, and that true friends stick no matter what. And I agree with you. However, because these true friends are so few in number, I end up spending most of my time alone. I ask you: do I, or anyone else like me, deserve this, just for being unwilling to participate in group chats?
You might think I’m being delusional, and you are free to tell me that. I strongly believe in ‘live and let live’. Ideally if I didn’t like WhatsApp groups, I should simply choose to ignore them. But at what cost? It saddens me that social media activity, that used to be a choice, has now become an obligation for most.