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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Humour: Navigating through the blue-ticked world of Whatsapp

If an anthropologist wants to analyse human behaviour in this digital age, s/he should start with the WhatsApp groups

brunch Updated: Aug 24, 2019 23:21 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
Like in the early days of social media, so much of what is posted as a WhatsApp status is directed towards an audience of one.
Like in the early days of social media, so much of what is posted as a WhatsApp status is directed towards an audience of one.(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

There’s a strange comfort in the epistolary novel, where plot and drama unfold through the thoughtful exchange of handwritten letters. So much of what conspires in traditional literature tumbles out in the course of correspondence that is unhurried and understated, unsent or unopened. “But I never received your letter!” a hapless suitor will finally say to his long-suffering sweetheart, providing a happy resolution to a tear-soaked tale. A far cry from the methodology of WhatsApp that kills all the romance, mystery and intrigue of human interaction with its brutal blue ticks.

Grey > Blue

The ramifications stretch far beyond the English novel, of course. I remember the heart-stopping moment when I had to confront the frightening reality: the sender now knows I’ve read his/her message and will expect an instant response. Of course, what technology taketh away, it restoreth in some measure. Deactivating the blue ticks means denying the sender the satisfaction of knowing their message has been delivered. As punishment, thou shalt forfeit the privilege of receiving message delivery confirmation thyself. I’ve found this to be a just exchange. Choosing grey ticks over the blue ones buys you just enough time until the conversation escalates to a phone call or de-escalates to an email.

I’m reminded of the time a friend first got on WhatsApp and expected (and wished) to be instantly inundated with messages. In contrast, I now have WhatsApp chats with friends where we lament the time lost each day to WhatsApp.We all agree it’s the groups.

X has left the group

Now if an anthropologist were to analyse human habits at this particular moment of digital obsession, she’d likely begin with WhatsApp groups. Who here isn’t on at least half a dozen of these time-swallowing, energy-devouring, misunderstanding-breeding virtual clubs? Who hasn’t experienced the gut-wrenching moment of a livid friend leaving the group in a huff? Of someone sharing an incriminating screenshot from one group on another group, necessitating a third group to discuss the treason? Who hasn’t endured daily “Good Morning” messages from the person from the long-forgotten yoga class? Rants and counter-rants on the school group? Alarmist “facts” from ex-colleagues? Health remedies from the tour guide? Yes, that one hilarious meme from a beloved friend can make up for countless other meaningless exchanges. Or can it?

With its brutal blue ticks, WhatsApp kills all the romance, mystery and intrigue of human interaction. Possible solution: Grey ticks!

I recently met someone who has over a hundred people on her family group. This made me think about the great Indian family, circa 2020. Remember the uncles you would avoid at weddings? The second cousins, thrice removed whose names you never needed to remember? That one grand-aunt who insists you’re a journalist no matter how hard you try to counter the mistaken notion? Now they’re all in one compressed space, a digital chorus of doom. I’m all for that warm and fuzzy family feeling, but something tells me this is not where it is to be found.

Change of status

There’s something about WhatsApp statuses I find to be perversely compelling. I just can’t get enough of the motivational messages of my flat broker, pictures of the plumber’s kids or devotional music shared by the CA. Social media is relatively easy to escape, but to have these updates pop up on your phone screen is strangely riveting. Like in the early days of social media, so much of what is posted as a WhatsApp status is directed towards an audience of one.Whereas there is more context on Facebook or Instagram, here you’re privy to some pretty personal utterings without even knowing a person’s entire name. (That’s if you, like me, save descriptive names on the phone, e.g. Priya Real 2017; Dilip Istri Also; Bartender Ajay Best.)

Now if this comes across like a rant about WhatsApp, I assure you it’s not. I find certain relationships best maintained on the app. GIFs and memes, emoticons and voice notes – the range of tools that can be deployed to deal with difficult/awkward situations is commendable. And then, of course, there are my favourite functions: block, mute and delete. All those things you wished you could do with painful people or memories, distilled into one free app. Right on cue, the hairdresser has just updated her status to: “Will u justify my love …” How not to be interested?

From HT Brunch, August 25, 2019

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First Published: Aug 24, 2019 22:16 IST