06 Dec 2016 20:24 IST

Large Whatsapp groups hurt more than help

Last weekend, I did the unthinkable. I unsubscribed from several groups all at once

I have written in these columns about the benefits and drawbacks of social media. After subscribing to several Whatsapp groups during the last few years, I began to realise that these groups have more drawbacks than benefits.

And so, last weekend, I did the unthinkable. I simply unsubscribed from several groups all at once.

Going cold turkey?

This was hard to do. I did not want to offend members of the various groups by giving the impression that they were less important to me now. If I just left cold, I wondered, what they would think. Would they gripe about me in the group or privately exchange messages debating why I left?

So I carefully crafted a resignation message. “All”, I said. “I’m trying an experiment of unsubscribing from all of my WhatsApp groups for a few weeks to see how this would impact me. I will continue to be on WhatsApp however for one-on-one chats. So, temp goodbye!” And I added a few appropriate emojis to soften the blow.

I sent this message first to a good friend so that I could re-use it for my groups. Then, I forwarded it to the first group. And before anyone had a chance to respond, I clicked on the group info, found my name and exited the group. I followed this by deleting the group so I would no longer get any messages.

In other words, I was completely gone from one of my circles.

Then, I copied the message that I had saved and surgically repeated the process for each group, one at a time. And before I knew it, I was gone from all of them.

The light of enlightenment

Something wonderful has happened in the last three days. I have gotten my physical life back.

For one thing, the annoying chime every few minutes — sometimes multiple chimes in the same minute as members react to a single explosive thread — is gone, and peaceful silence has returned to my office and living room.

I also find that I suddenly have a lot more time. I no longer have to struggle between responding to a post and looking up to continue a conversation with a family member.

But beyond the recapture of time, I realised something even more important: That it was silly to attempt to re-live life the way it was back in high school or college.

No common goal

When we are young, we have no goals other than to go through whatever everybody else around is doing. We go to school or college, make friends, attend classes, study, sit for exams and move on to the next year or semester. Our friendships then are largely non-transactional and non-mutual. This is a highly innocent and carefree stage of life where we make friends with anyone as long as the other person is simply willing to talk and get along.

The trouble is that we get older. And as we get older, our definition of relationships changes. Cruel as it may seem, we gradually become more selfish in our outlook. We only sustain friendships with those who matter to us. Perhaps you share a common goal with someone — such as a friend at work. Or it is someone in your neighbourhood with whom you can share similar civic problems.

The key factor in sustaining friendships, therefore, is this idea of a shared common goal, provided other thresholds are met — that is, the other person has to be truthful, trustworthy and otherwise meet your moral standards of what you look for in a relationship. Remarkably, such friendships extend out to the online world and survive without any issues.

Is nostalgia overrated?

The main problem with large WhatsApp groups is that their members do not share a common goal. Simply because you went to school with someone 25 years ago does not mean that your goals are the same today. Even if they are similar, it is hard to bring relevance to a current day situation. Nostalgia is a powerful fuel but it cannot pay my bills or solve a current problem at work.

This was why large WhatsApp groups become irrelevant to me. When someone posts something, two things happen. Either it is fully ignored and lost in the next set of unrelated posts and forwards; or the post is so acidic that it is debated to death in short, unintelligible text messages loaded with emojis.

At the end of the conversation, not one mind has changed. And even if it has, it does not matter that someone whom I have not met in a long time, quite suddenly agrees with me on an arcane issue.

Most people on these large groups credit someone who forwards a message as the message’s original creator. Congratulatory messages follow when a forward is particularly enjoyable or valuable. The opposite happens when the message is not quite so.

And then there are completely ridiculous forwards with links to rogue websites because those who first post to the group do not realise the enormous editorial responsibility that they have.

I need my (memory) space

Finally there was the issue of maintaining my phone. With so many videos and music clips posted, the soft memory on my phone would get used up every two days. Even when I set the auto download to off — which is difficult because you don’t know which one to delete until you have downloaded it to first watch it — I found myself spending extra time to clean my phone before it got clogged again.

As I have said before, we Indians love a bargain. The return on investment — what we get for what we put in — is always utmost on our minds. I realised that the ROI from large WhatsApp groups was just not high anymore.

It has been a full 72 hours since I unsubscribed from all of my large groups. Not one person has written to me, asking why I left. I doubt if people even noticed my bold action. If they did, they probably did not care to ask. Either way, I do not own a sense of guilt anymore. I only wish I had thought of this simple idea sooner.

Recommended for you