October 5, 2022

Analogue August - A month (or 14) without WhatsApp

In July 2021 the Brewer Half (now my brewer husband, now not brewing anymore, so perhaps I should just call him Andy?) quit WhatsApp.  He was met with mostly accolades for taking a stand against evil Zuckerberg.

Everything went on as normal, without WhatsApp.  I filled him in on our groups and organized our social life and he moved his bike riding group to texting.  The adjustment was minor.

I wanted to give it a go.  I wondered if there was perhaps a world of people outside my phone.  I wondered whether leaving all my groups and my friends across the world behind would mean the end of our friendships, or whether it would be a transition to something else.   I could always send emails instead of whatsapps.  Or I could write letters.  Or I could call?  There were many ways to stay in touch without that icon guiding my life.  And, tangentially, I wondered how close or important a friendship really was if deleting a free app was the end of it all.

I texted some friends and some family and some groups and told them I was going to be off WhatsApp for August.  I was a bit worried but Andy said it was great.  I did enjoy the process of deleting.  But - unlike deleting Facebook so many years ago - I didn't feel instantly relieved.  I felt sort of lonely.  I was glad to be away from the WhatsApp commitments, but I was also disappeared from a whole world.  Work chats, friend chats, parents chats. I didn't have any long form communication on my phone anymore and I didn't have anything to "check" when I wanted that smartphone distraction.

"I never know how to reach you anymore" was a common refrain from my friends, even though I had the same number as before.

What I realized, slowly, was that WhatsApp had become a social beast to feed.  It was papering over my lack of interpersonal connection with a series of alert induced serotonin hits and feeling part of a "community".  Whatsapp people were my friends - but we were expressing our friendship in the oddest way.  "here's a photo I think you'll find funny!" is nice to receive - but suddenly I realized it was probably sent to 5 or 10 people.  A text that says "thinking of you" can be circulated to 30 people in under a minute.  When people had to think of me in classic SMS text, outside of WhatsApp, they suddenly appeared to think of me less.  

The experiment wasn't only about logging off of WhatsApp. It was about seeing what community still existed. It was about trying to appreciate my true interpersonal conversation and connections more.  When I meet with friends I have so much to catch up on now - because we haven't given each other a running log of our lives.  I have phone conversations - I started calling people.  Calling is awkward but fills the loneliness far better than waiting for a WhatsApp.

I also realized that if I was lonely without WhatsApp it meant I was lonely with WhatsApp.  I just hadn't realized it.

Analogue August continued.  I don't feel the urge to get back on the messenger.  I know I miss things - I don't know about restaurants or classes.  I don't see frequent photos of people I like a lot.  But I also value the time I spend with my friends and family more.  I plan more social engagements and miss people when I haven't seen them for too long.  

I also don't know how I had time for WhatsApp before - my phone used to show 30-60 minutes of WhatsApp use a day.  Now, with no WhatsApp, I never reach the end of my days wondering what to do with my 30-60 minutes.  How did I have time for that before?

So Analogue August 2021 has continued through to Analogue October 2022.  It's been an interesting experiment but I'm still enjoying it!

And, if you're wondering, this is my current beast of a phone.  I adore it:

I've posted more about my decision and transition here

And got a bit introspecting on whether smartphones are widening a gender attention gap here

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