WhatsApp groups are bonding people with each other as never before. Some like the intimacy while others find it too close for comfort

Orkut is dead…so what? Long live WhatsApp! The ping and the red indicator on the tiny logo of a white phone receiver back-grounded by bright green has many hooked. The pull of the notification tone is irresistible.

Orkut seems to belong to a time long ago when you needed a computer – desktop or laptop – to access the internet. When phones got smart or went Android, social media applications made an appearance. Most messenger services are free. From among a long list of messenger apps such as Viber, WhatsApp, Wechat, Line Chat and Hike Messenger (besides many others), which have been developed over the years, WhatsApp is possibly the most popular one among Kochiites.

If you found old school mates and college friends through Facebook, then WhatsApp lets you know what they had for breakfast or what they are doing right now even as you read this. “It is more immediate. It is faster it is as good as having a conversation,” says Indrajith H. who works in the pharmaceutical industry. He is part of a WhatsApp group of his schoolmates at FACT Udyogmandal School (UDL 88) and also an official group. With his school group, he says, it is going back around 25 years and “becoming a 15-year-old.”

Krishnan Menon, an entrepreneur, sums it up succinctly, “It is cheaper. And keeping in touch with people was made simpler to the fingertips.”

What makes it even more attractive is that like in an email, photos and videos can be uploaded and shared; you can even forward things (and be annoying) like in email. Unlike email, one doesn’t have to wait for a response. It even informs you of the last time someone was on WhatsApp and also has the option of blocking unwanted numbers.

The app has, in some cases, become the preferred medium of official communication. The immediacy of the app has made it the preferred app for groups of people with similar interests and/or kinship. Sizes of groups vary from three to any number.

Nobody else knows of the existence of the group and the best part is that you can exit a group if you are not interested. That might be fodder for more chats though!

Lakshmi Das, a homemaker, thought of using the messenger service as a means of keeping in touch with her cousins. She has formed a group of her cousins who ping back and forth through the course of the day. This way she says, “All keep in touch together. Rather than send individual messages to each person, this way everybody’s in the loop. Every one has rather busy schedules and even phone calls might not be possible. This works.” She is even compiling a list of birthdays of her cousins and their kids so that everybody remembers important days. She is member of another smaller group of three friends. “It is like we are chatting to each other and we are clued in on what is going on.”

Where to shop? Which movie to see? Where to get a haircut? Want to sell stuff? Chances are your WhatsApp group will have an answer. “It is a lot of fun. And it is a great support system,” says Vanitha* who started a group of friends with similar interests who she thought would get along. “This helps you understand people better too. I also wanted to help some of my introverted friends to be more active…and I can see a change in them.”

It can also be a great tool for bonding and emotional well-being. Wellness expert Nuthan Manohar has started a group called ‘Beautiful Life’ which has around 50 members. The group is a platform “to share positive thoughts and little acts of joy that would make our day better.”

Nuthan’s group includes women who attend her wellness and yoga classes, women who share common interests. “I prefer to keep the commercial angle out of it,” she adds. Members of the group do a lot of interesting things together such as going on cycling trips, visiting photo exhibitions and even going out for meals together.

Youngster Nitin Joseph, who helps senior citizens with technology, started a group for senior citizens, ‘Nitin’s Senior Friends’ (NSF), which has helped them immensely, says a member of the group.

The immediacy of the app which is its USP is also its greatest nuisance factor. Nutan as the group administrator and/or leader has put down some rules such as timings – no late night and early morning messaging unless it is an emergency, no interpersonal dialogues and not to use the group for commercial purposes among others.

People have left groups for some of these reasons. Seeta* says, “At times what happens is that conversations descend to gossip. I often did not like what was being spoken, I didn’t want to be part of that. Like every tool it has its pluses and minuses. I didn’t like the direction the group chat was heading.”

There is the other fallout of constant ‘WhatsApping’ – being oblivious to all that is happening around often at the cost of family time. “My husband is constantly on WhatsApp with his friends. It annoys me. At times I feel he has no clue about what is going on in my life,” says Smitha R*.

While some people can’t think of an online existence without WhatsApp, there are some people who are blissfully untouched by it. “I didn’t feel the need for it,” says Priya Shiju, a media professional.

(* indicates changed names)

Tell the world!

WhatsApp is the ‘app’ form of ‘what’s up’. The app was launched around four years ago.

It is instant, immediate and has an emoji for almost every emotion and/or feeling and an icon for most things.

It is user friendly and has the option of posting a profile picture, as in Facebook. There is the option of posting a status message which tells everybody on your contact list how you are feeling.

The app offers status templates. If film personalities post the names of their latest projects, regular folk express the latest on their minds – ranging from movie dialogues to emojis to passages from books or poetry. A few examples are ‘Always on line …full time online’, ‘Carpe diem…’ some are ‘Forever awake’ while others are ‘Sleeping’ and some believe in a ‘No status’. A scroll down your contact list is a source of fun.

Keywords: WhatsAppOrkut