October 16, 2022

Gendered Impact of Technology - WhatsApp Groups

I've spent some time considering the differences between my WhatsApp departure and my husband's WhatsApp departure and I am starting to wonder whether the disparate reactions are indicative of a larger disparate gendered impact of smartphone technology for women.

Generally, any person's WhatsApp is full of groups.  Before I left WhatsApp, I had many of them and I liked each person in all of them.  In fact, I created them or joined them to be full of people I liked.

At the same time, they were all commitments.  In a sense, these groups are akin to tiny Tamagotchis, all needing intermittent care and attention.  I loved the little serotonin hit I got from a new message, a quick distracting update from friends. I felt bad for the sadness people would share, bad news needed consolation. Quick wit needed to be quick.  People remembered birthdays and anniversaries and I needed to show I remember them too.

I don't think men engage with Whatsapp in this way.  Andy's WhatsApp was not full of groups.  The groups he was in would banter back and forth to the point where he didn't have to read it.  He didn't worry about missing an important update.  About not saying "happy birthday" on time.  He used it as a tool to make plans.   

For me, the line between correspondence and obligation seemed to blur.  Was I cultivating friendships in these groups?  Or were these groups the friendships in themselves?

Whatsapp groups fundamentally appeal to social and interpersonal relationships.  Women are often more affected by social bonds than men are.  Creating a second life where women maintain their friendships online, on their smart phones, outside of their interpersonal interactions, only adds to the social-emotional mental load women bear.  

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