A picture of my friend’s dinner.
Ting. Ting. Ting. Ting.
A group of friends ranting about Brexit.
Such is life with WhatsApp.
When I first discovered the green-iconed gizmo four years ago, it seemed like the solution to every communication issue under the sun. More immediate than texting – without the advertising and surplus nonsense that plagues social media – it offered a straightforward way to contact multiple friends simultaneously, anywhere in the world.
But, as with everything, there’s a dark side to WhatsApp.
With great convenience, comes great masses of your waking life and mental energy sapped into your phone.
So after giving up Facebook for Lent last year – which resulted in a notable surge in productivity, reflection and perspective – this year I decided to take it up a notch.
Not only did I give up Facebook, but WhatsApp too.
Here’s what happened.
It was awesome at first.
On Ash Wednesday, I woke to the revelation that there was no point in checking my phone. There were no group bombardments, and no snitchy blue ticks obligating me to respond.
What a sweet sense of relief and freedom.
Instead, I spent a while thinking about how fun it would be to own a theme park, and then went in the shower.
As the days panned out, that ubiquitous ‘ting’ became a distant memory. One that I didn’t really miss at all.
Until I needed to arrange things.
Everything was dandy. Until I wanted to propose a group pub trip. Or arrange a pick-up time with my climbing lift-share. Or seek immediate mid-pregnancy-scare reassurance from my closest gal-pals.
What was previously a three second exercise became a complex, time-consuming ring-around. Also known as, a pain in the arse.
And I started missing things I used to take for granted.
My WhatsApp abstinence stung me particularly badly in one area. It resulted in a lack of baby nephew updates.
Before giving up WhatsApp, my sister sent me regular videos of the little dude screaming, with soup all over his face. Not receiving these hilarious portraits of carnage, quite frankly, sucked.
As did the fact I had no easy way to contact my friends and family abroad. Like my friend, Rosie, who works offshore. In fact, Rosie and I went from communicating on a regular basis over WhatsApp, to having no contact at all. Which was awful.
This leads me to my next point.
It didn’t just inconvenience me. It inconvenienced my friends.
Many of my friends couldn’t get their heads around why I was giving up WhatsApp and Facebook. In fact, many of them were genuinely angry with me.
In my eyes, it was a personal challenge. Not a decision to shut down my social networks and block people from being able to contact me.
But unfortunately, that’s what ended up happening. This is something I’d lacked the foresight to realise before I did it (perhaps because I’d been too busy replying to WhatsApp messages to think it through).
Over the Lent period, I received several irate phone calls. They generally opened with… “Ugh.. I tried to WhatsApp you and then remembered you wouldn’t see it… You’re the worst.”
Luckily, they got over it. And I’m glad I did it.
It’s over now, and thankfully, none of my friendships appear to have suffered as a result.
Though at times it was inconvenient and frustrating, I’m happy I did it.
It was an eye-opening exercise into what it means to give up something that, only four years ago, I wasn’t even aware existed.
But would I do it again?
Giving up WhatsApp was refreshing, particularly to begin with, and gave me a lot more thinking space than I’d had in a while.
Rather than being engaged in endless, meaningless exchanges, I was able to focus more on the real world.
Also, if people really wanted to contact me, they would call or text me. So I wasn’t missing out on everything. In fact, I had the luxury of essential information condensed in one hit (ie. A phone call to say: “We’re going to the pub at 8”, rather than two hours of watching a group deliberate via emojis).
However, in all honesty, I don’t think it’s something I’d want to give up again. At least not in such an extreme way.
I will be doing my best to avoid getting sucked into pointless chit-chat over WhatsApp, or using it as a means of procrastination. But for all its perils, it’s a very helpful communication tool.
So as long as I can keep my usage habits under control, I’m perfectly content to keep letting WhatsApp do its ting.
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