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What’s with WhatsApp

The price that you have to pay for the desire to stay connected

What’s with WhatsApp

Like everyone, I too get tonnes of messages through WhatsApp and Messenger — by the minute, if not the hour. These are all from acquaintances, serious people who mean well and think it proper to share all they think is worth sharing.

The regular text message that we know as SMS is getting infrequent every day. Apart from some fashion and food brands, my regular ‘text feed’ (just trying to sound a pro when I don’t know if such a phrase exists) is somehow ‘wired’ in a peculiar way. I end up getting messages from people who want me to sell my ‘dead, used and old’ window AC to them or get my “pani ki tanky” (water tank) cleaned at the earliest.

There are occasional ‘jackpots’ from Benazir Income Support Programme that may have started with a meagre award of Rs20k or so but their latest message proudly informs that I have won Rs76k. Now, refusing that kind of money requires some strength of character: I, therefore, stand tall in my own eyes. And, finally, the endless tuition suggestions for my kids.

Clearly, there is no science behind all this because, lately, I have been bombarded with texts for a sure admission into Aitchison College for my son if I sent him to a certain academy or tutor. Too late, I suppose, for us both.

Of all these SMSes, the only ones I have the slightest compunction about are from the water tank cleaners. Laziness, unfortunately, is the victor once again.

But these messages come one at a time (leaving me with enough time to delete them) unlike, say, the ones on WhatsApp that come in hordes. The distracted person that I am, burdened by a set of false responsibilities, it looks plain impossible to open all these messages, read them, watch all videos, and also respond to them even if through emojis.

This makes me a forever-guilty-person, guiltier still when I have to “clear chat” without even seeing what was sent. There are certain relatives that take it as a personal affront if you don’t respond. They assume everyone has the time, phone battery, and a ready wi-fi to see and form an opinion about all the messages they send. Some days, I wonder how come the people forwarding these messages have the time, battery, and wi-fi to do all this that I can’t.

Some days, I wonder how come the people forwarding these messages have the time, battery, and wi-fi to do all this that I can’t.

On WhatsApp again, what creates constant buzz are Groups, featuring people living in different time zones and, hence, the 24/7 buzz. Yes, one must accept responsibility for creating certain groups for convenience’s sake but there are so many others that take you in their fold through virtual coercion. Mercifully, no one takes offence if you don’t participate in the discussions because there is enough discussion happening already. As for me, I must clear chat every few days, to let the phone perform its basic functions.

Sometimes, it feels I am over-reading into the situation. These bulk messages are sent by friends and family who just want to tell me they are fine. This perhaps is the only way they can do it these days. Besides, we all know how awkward real-life interaction usually is. It turns out that social media too has its awkward moments; sometimes the sexist-misogynist jokes do get on my nerves and I find it hard to believe how blissfully untouched some of my friends are by the #MeToo wave. Or, have they decided to ignore it purposefully?

But this is a price that I, and all humanity it seems, have to pay for the desire to stay connected. We all have to constantly face content that requires us to read and respond to good news, jokes, memes, sad news, serious analysis and much else, all at the same time. No wonder we now sometimes laugh at serious analysis, cry on jokes, think hard about memes and hurriedly scroll down the sad news to read what the next joke is about.

Perhaps, a not-too-bad sentence that I read this morning on my WhatsApp sums it up: “Contemporary humanity has lost the ability to engage in productive solitude.”

Farah Zia

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