Spice of Life: WhatsApp has become too much of a tattler

While you can discreetly unfriend someone or quietly leave a group on Facebook, there is no such freedom on WhatsApp. Exits and expulsions are gleefully announced to all.

punjab Updated: Mar 13, 2018 20:40 IST
Spice of Life,WhatsApp,Social networking sites
(Representative Image)

Congratulations are in order. Users can do the undoable or should I say undo the doable. The long-awaited delete option is now available on WhatsApp. If you have ever sent a message to the wrong person or have mis-phrased a message in a moment of passion and then repented, you too must have prayed for this recourse to revoke.

The sad news is that this facility comes with a caveat. You can’t delete a message without leaving a telltale mark. Like a badly erased error, it leaves a readable residue, ‘This message was deleted’. A grim reminder to the others that something ‘delete worthy’ had been conceived and written.

I would have ignored this small fallout had I not noticed a long history of snoopy behaviour. The fact is that in comparison to others, WhatsApp seems to enjoy being a scandalmonger. So while you can discreetly unfriend someone or quietly leave a group on Facebook, there is no such freedom here. Exits and expulsions are gleefully announced to all.

But let me digress from my laments and start where it all started. Like many of my generation, I have reluctantly warmed up to the world of electronic messaging. When I was new, a friend suggested I use nonstandard abbreviations and emoticons to sound young and hip. I tried but couldn’t tolerate the look of a misspelt word and worried that a grinning face would not be able to communicate my joy. So like an old hag, I continue to type whole words. I have succumbed to its power though and have surrendered all my free time to it.

While the software was evolving, I observed that not all changes could be called improvements. As if the ‘last seen’ option was not intrusive enough, the twin blue check marks that followed helped compound people’s obsessive streak. These tiny ticks set the clock ticking by telling users whether the message has been read at the other end.

Casual chitchat is thus turned into legal notice. The ‘...is typing’ information is equally annoying. It fills one with anticipation, specially when it goes on and on. It seems that the responder is trapped in verbosity but when the message reaches, sometimes, it’s just a ‘sure’ or worse a ‘thumbs up’ emoticon. Makes one think, since it couldn’t have taken that long to type four letters, so the message either got lost in transit or was deliberately deleted. The contribution of a slow internet connection notwithstanding, the ‘unsaid’ is bothersome.

Initially being part of a group was hassle-free. You just had to turn the notifications off. You were then, free to read, if and when you wanted and respond if you felt like. Those days of careless abandon ended soon enough. In a bid to better the application, WhatsApp made it possible to get information about which members have received a post and who have seen it. So by a simple tap, people know if you are ignoring them. The only way to escape is not to log in but the suspense of an unread message could kill you, or at least harm you gravely.

Are you on it, when were you last on it, did you receive the message, did you read the message, have you started replying, are you deliberating or being forthright and finally, did you delete a comment after an unguarded outburst? All moves are watched and dutifully reported.

It is no longer a leisure activity, something which you can do when you have nothing else to do. It’s too much pressure for casual time pass. And although I assume that these upgrades must be well intended, you know what’s up with WhatsApp... it’s become too much of a tattler! dr_manjugupta@icloud.com

The writer is a Gharaunda-based gynaecologist

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 20:40 IST