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‘WhatsAppism’ and its followers

“WhatsAppism has become so influential that we don’t realise that the more groups we become part of, we lose our precious time and productivity.”

“WhatsAppism has become so influential that we don’t realise that the more groups we become part of, we lose our precious time and productivity.”   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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These virtual exchanges have come to enliven but also dominate and distract

A recent study showed that about 70% of Indians have ready access to a smartphone (thanks to digital India), although only 30% have hygienic toilets. But such things hardly matter in a country where contrast and disparity is the rule rather than the exception.

Among these smartphone owners, about 70 million are followers of a new religion called WhatsAppism. Though smartphones have many eye-catching and useful features, WhatsApp naturally tops the charts as the most attractive element. In fact, some six years ago I changed my bulky handset and went for a sleek model, lured by WhatsApp. I bet virtually every user of the smartphone would agree with me that ‘WhatsApping’ has become an unavoidable daily activity.

To support my notion, another study, in fact sent to me by WhatsApp, showed that since the advent of the app, many young people religiously take their smartphones to the toilet, thus lending that much certainty to their daily bowel movement routine. In fact, one of my visiting cousins asked me whether I didn’t have a wi-fi router close to the toilet since he was not receiving adequate signal.

Once you have WhatsApp, it does not stop itself as a simple one-to-one messenger. Like a mesmerising yogi, it extends its tentacles around us and we become slowly entangled in many WhatsApp “groups”. Akin to having many friends on Facebook, the number of WhatsApp groups in your phone is considered a strong indicator of your social and amicable nature. One of my friends, a strong disciple of WhatsApp, is a member of 42 groups. And not unexpectedly, his most common message in our group is: “Sorry. Wrongly posted. Not intended in this group.”

WhatsApp ‘groups’ generally fall into one of the following heads: family, friends, social, work, association, cousins, flat, school-mates, college-mates. Though this list is exhaustive, many groups are still unclassifiable. For example, I was included in a group of middle-aged husbands who buy fish from a shop in our neighbourhood. Members who visit the shop early in the morning would enlighten the other members with their timely posts, “Fish arrived. Good quality.” This helps us buy before other customers get wind of it.

Each group has its own ‘character and behaviour’. This usually depends on how the group members got together. I have a WhatsApp group of school-mates where the discussions are really ‘childish’. We were classmates for about six years and then parted ways only to be re-united after 20 years by WhatsAppeus (perhaps the Greek god of WhatsAppism). In the group, we poke around each other about our childhood idiocies, mischief and tantrums of our school days. On the contrary, some groups are entirely different. I belong to a WhatsApp group of friends who completed our post-graduation degree in a central institute of excellence. Unsurprisingly, in this group the discussions are usually at a scholarly level, and the group is unique with formal greetings, intellectual posts, subtle criticism and efforts to display one’s knowledge.

Group members are also often widely different in their behaviour. Some are the “lifeline” of the groups. They start with a good morning flower and end the day with a good night moon. They hold one end strongly and play throughout the day. They respond to every other member’s posts, and without them the group loses its sheen. Some are the “pinch-hitters” — sudden episodes of activity followed by long periods of inactivity. There are some “walls” — hang out all through the day with occasional posts and are always in the fray. “Night watch men” too exist — they arrive in the group after the sun sets and are the last to leave, by midnight. There are some members whose existence, we never really know for sure, till they post a Happy Deepavali or a Merry Christmas.

WhatsAppism has become so influential that we don’t realise that the more groups we become part of, we lose our precious time and productivity. We don’t appreciate that it is a virtual world. WhatsAppism makes it look like we are actually spending good time with our friends. But we forget that the comments posted are in virtual space. We are not in conversation with anybody. The posts hardly reflect a person’s integrity, character or behavior. Man created religions to unite us but we keep fighting with one another. Likewise, WhatsAppism intends to unite friends and communicate better rather than stay futile in an unproductive virtual world. Let us not forget its original intent and we shall stay true to WhatsAppeus! 

rishiortho2003@yahoo.co.in

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 10:29:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/whatsappism-and-its-followers/article21822881.ece

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