By Hayley Doyle
I sat down to write this 20 minutes ago.
No. Definitely, definitely longer.
But the WhatsApp group of parents from my son’s school has gone into overdrive. It’s the summer fair this weekend. Although I’ve signed up to help, I can’t remove myself from the group. There’s also a school trip this week. End of term gifts for teachers to sort. And the general lost property chit-chat.
Fine. I could temporarily mute. Check later. I won’t be labelled Worst Mum Ever if I don’t respond to not knowing where little Freddie’s water bottle might be or agree right there and then to bake (cough, shop-buy) some muffins for the cake stall. But I might forget to unmute tonight. The catch up will become overwhelming. And my kid will end up being the one on the school trip with no packed lunch. But just as I was contemplating muting-for-now, the family WhatsApp group went PING!
You know the score. Photos of the kids get shared. The response is laughing emojis and hearts. Current political memes forwarded from other WhatsApp groups are forwarded on. Jokes. The eye-rolling kind. Oh, my crazy family. We rarely - if ever - discuss something serious on this platform, and you’d think it would be a good place to sort out any logistics, but nope. It’s all just daft.
Then I get a work WhatsApp. And another. They need to replied to instantly.
I attempt a voice note. We’re all still on the fence about voice notes, aren’t we? It makes sense to get the message out more quickly without worrying about spelling and grammar. And more importantly, the person on the receiving end hears your tone of voice. But there is still a delete button. Am I the only person who sends the third version of the voice note? I didn’t think so…I try to go for breezy, but straight to the point, and always apologise for waffling. Cringe. By the time I’ve perfected my imperfect voice note, I have a load of new WhatsApp messages from various other people and groups.
Now, let’s make this clear. I am not Queen Bee. I have not won a popularity contest. My experience of WhatsApp is just like yours. What started out as a phenomena - wow, free texting - has literally taken over our lives. If I’m unable to instantly reply, it doesn’t mean that I automatically don’t think about my reply. It plagues my present. I can’t move forward. I’m stuck in the mud. I want to reply and get the thought out of my head, but because I can’t, for whatever reason, I keep the reply lodged or stewing, until I can.
So. In short. Our fast-paced chit-chat generation is well, not so fast-paced.
Overthinking becomes even more overthinking.
Fights can bubble. Bubble. POP.
I get product progression. Technology. I do. People got tired of walking; so yay, along came cars. Scrubbing clothes by hand took forever; so woop, hurray for the washing machine. And as much as we like to romanticise the idea of letters, getting an email is great; instant and efficient, but still with an air of formality to it. WhatsApp, however, is on another level. It’s so informal that it can blow a more serious conversation into the wrong direction entirely. We blurt out our thoughts, when really, if we’d been able to judge the other person’s situation by hearing their voice and sensing their mood, our responses would be much more sensitive and appropriate.
So what do we do?
Well, the term, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” could apply here. Talking - voice to voice - was never broke. It didn’t need fixing. So while WhatsApp might be good for sharing certain things (fun light-hearted banter OR simple information, please), it’s not moved the art of conversation along further. It’s just another robot. And it won’t get upset if you type something you later regret. But you will. So pick up the phone.
Except… Are you worried when somebody calls you?
Actually calls you?
Yes. Because it’s so rare. You can only presume the worst. And because of this world-wide worry that people have today about getting that phone call, nobody bothers to call one another full stop. I have been back and forth on WhatsApp chats about everything from family visits, meeting points, deadlines, sickness, relationship issues, friend concerns, what-to-wear, what-to-eat, agh, you name it. But every single one of those chats could have been rounded up clearer and more quickly via an actual phone call. When I called my mum this morning, this is how it went;
Mum: What’s the matter?
Mum: Tell me.
Mum: What’s wrong? Spit it out!
Me: I’m just calling about birthday presents. For the kids.
Mum: WhatsApp me!
Me: I did. Last night.
Mum: I haven’t read it yet.
Me: Which is why I’m calling you…
Mum: Send it to me again.
Me: Can’t we just talk about it?
Mum: I can’t talk. I can’t think.
And this is the woman who used to talk on the phone so much, she would make friends with the call centre agent in the complaints department for National Rail. But it’s all part of another lesson we’re learning, isn’t it? During these early stages of the digital age. We’re babies, bumbling through every new app that comes along, crashing into them head first and crying when it suddenly feels too much. Maybe in a couple of hundred years, when humanity is super-zen and super-efficient without being super-anxious, the art of messaging will be as easy as eating too much chocolate while watching TV.
But seriously, I feel like WhatsApp is ruining my life.
Okay, most of the time, it’s manageable and I’m into it/as used to it as the next person. But that’s the trick with WhatApp isn’t it? It lulls you into a belief that it’s the best way to communicate and then wallops you in the face when it doesn’t work out. I’ve been known to send a message, then worry I’ve worded it wrong and caught somebody off guard. So I follow up with a voice note so they can hear my genuine tone. Then, if I don’t get a response and I’m terrified I’ve offended in some way, I pick up the phone and call. Now that’s an awfully long-winded way of trying to find out something pretty trivial. And these occurrences only ever happen when I’m feeling stressed anyway, and I’ve sent a “quick” message on-the-go or to tick-off-my-list, when in actual fact, all I’ve done is create even more stress for myself - and probably the other person - by using WhatsApp.
I’ve lost days to WhatsApp. Fallen behind with my workload. Missed the world around me. We get sucked in so easily because it works both ways; I don’t want to keep somebody waiting for my reply, because I know what it’s like to anxiously await one myself. Although, one of the reasons we feel compelled to reply instantly is because we want to stay present, isn’t it? We think, oh, I’ll just send this quick message and then I’ll be able to focus on the here and now. But it’s never that simple. And when one of my little kids says, “Get off your phone, Mummy,” it’s like a punch in the stomach.
I don’t know what the answer is.
But please know that if I do phone you, I promise to keep it short…