‘Life’s been strange for many of us through this year’ – this is possibly an understatement for many of us, including me. Despite its oddities, wonderful gifts, disguised in the form of strange happenings, of course, many times, revealing themselves to us much later than we might like, have come our way, much ahead of Christmas!
What WA gives us
I have to say that during this time, our online communication channels have served as a source of upto date information, which many of us needed, helping us create a support system, while at the same time, in many cases, also turning into channels of spreading panic and dismay. More and more people ‘want to know’ what is going on – with countries, cities and their own residential spaces. Many people have reached out to help each other during this time, including those who are generally known to have a tough time thinking beyond themselves. People have started home based businesses completely modelled on this App and I know some residential societies where residents have a choice of over a 100 groups to choose from, offering services and products of all kinds.
What such Apps could do to us
For the last few years I have been paying close attention to what gets my attention and how I spend the most important thing available to me – my time. It is becoming clearer that uncertainty about the world and our lives is increasing with every passing minute. Hence, what we do with the time we have left is of increasing consequence. It was only when I started to track my screen time, did I realise that I had been spending a fair amount of time on WA, which had become the source for a constant connection with many people in various networks. I had started and had been running many groups, was part of a few, some by choice and some because ‘you have to be there’ and of course had my regular friends’ list. Fuelled by my sense of being either deeply involved or not at all, I used to regularly partake in many discussions and freely share with people whatever I had been learning. In the past few months I started to notice how WA had become such an integral part of my life that I almost felt I could not function without it. In a Buddhist sense, I would qualify it as an ‘attachment’, something that you start deeming necessary for life and for your happiness. It is kind of ridiculous to think of an App like that but it is the sad truth of these times for many. It is a disguised manifestation of our ego self.
I started to examine the nature of the relationships I had with people through my conversations on WA and while I could count only a handful with whom I was connected through WA because I connected with them in person, I found myself connected with many others by ‘default’, people with whom I had never met or could not resonate with, many times, resulting in my being a recipient of information or content that I was not prepared for. I started to also pay attention to the emotions that triggered in me as a result of receiving such content and how it was (not) serving me or the other for that matter.
The game of perception (and deception)
The thing with not responding on WA (or any digital communication platform) is that it can be construed as anything one wishes and that can be held as a true belief. It could be construed as ignoring the other person or being rude or just not caring enough to respond. Seldom do people want to believe that you were in the midst of something and did not have the time to respond. It is interesting how we tend to pick the interpretation which most aligns with our state of being. Even psychologists might sometimes struggle to find meanings to some texts which have faulty language or grammar and it is not surprising many of us fail miserably.
Not being able to have a continuous conversation where under regular circumstances, gaps would be filled by pauses of breathing and emotions and having only words or emojis to rely on could be, in my view, is what is deeply damaging to relationships. This obviously then, puts a fair bit of pressure on people to say the right thing, to be mindful of how your texts could be construed, to even respond sometimes with false encouragement and the ‘right sounding response’ and hence might lead to a fair bit of tip toeing. One word to describe such interactions ‘inauthentic’. While this does not apply to people with whom we might share good relationships with in real life, it can be fairly pronounced in cases where relationships have not been formed yet or are strained. .
All this reflection has led me to believe that WA is possibly yet another form of FB, creating an artificial environment for us to connect with when phones and in person meetings or video calls are very much available. The calling service it provides has enhanced our dependence on the platform and in fact, made many people forget the regular calling service, or even the good old sms for that matter. Yes it is good for many, has many benefits and by all means, if it serves you, you must stay on it.
If you have, however, experienced trolling, you know it can get pretty stressful and no matter what you say, if someone comes with a bad temper or attitude, nothing you can say on text can help address the situation. I had one such experience not very long ago and what a gift it was, in hindsight. It is all I needed to act on my decision. In a split second, it dawned on me that while this App had opened the doors for me to with so many around the world, increasing the ‘quantity’ of my contacts and connection opportunities, it had massively downgraded the ‘quality’ of my relationships, except the ones where good quality telephonic conversations or in person meetings continued, only because it was unable to mimic the cosmic gap of the breath and emotions that keep a conversation in a flow. It had easily allowed people to be ‘non inclusive’, to have side conversations while being a larger group, without realising that such a sharing is as inappropriate as having a side talk with someone in a language that is foreign to the rest in the group.
I listened to an eye opening talk on conversation analysis wherein some people who are experts in analysing conversations can predict the quality and even future of your relationship with the gaps in your conversation. It is kind of like breathing, only with another person. When we breathe, we inhale and then we exhale but the time in between is what is critical because that is what turns the breath, changes its direction and without that, it might be somewhat like being on an artificial ventilator. It is in that gap that I sense what the other person is feeling, whether the person with me in conversation, the quality of the space we are creating with our energies, our pauses, our breathing patterns, etc. whereas with digital media, that sacred space somehow seems to be compromised (I would say with the exception of a video call that comes somewhat close, especially where both audio and video are uninterrupted and the screen is large enough for one to read facial expressions).
I miss that gap in digital conversations. I choose to honour the sacred gap of conversations, I choose to honour that sacred part of a human connection that cannot be masked by the mute button or by shutting off one’s video or by inserting an emoji. I choose to live without WA.
Things to consider if you are planning going off WA
The interesting thing about trying to delete the App from your phone is that just deleting the App does not help because you continue to be a part of all groups, with group members generally assuming that you are silent. The moment you reinstall the App, all messages come flooding in, making you feel as though you missed so much in life and now you must catch up! It is important to cut through this illusion and to turn your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out). Watching the film Social Dilemma is recommended if you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet (though I have to say that I had made my decision much before watching it).
The other thing that I discovered was that when you delete your account, you are automatically exited from all groups you were a part of, leading people to possibly experience your sudden exit as if there was a jerk in a moving vehicle, unskillful and unsophisticated, even though that was not how you might have imagined it to be. It would be useful to let people know through an automated message something to the effect of ‘this person is now no longer using WA’. but let’s be honest, why would the company want that message show up? That doesn’t serve the business and it might prod others to leave the platform. So if by any chance, you intend on leaving WA, know this ~ as ridiculous as it might sound to you, many people will assume that you don’t want to hang out with them (including your family and friends if they don’t know you better). All in all, it takes courage, planning and faith. You might wish to inform a few people in advance (I didn’t because it was like a personal choice I made – like when I drink water and sit down, I don’t really go about informing people). Believe that this is a cosmic clearing opportunity in a way – that those who genuinely wish to connect with you, will find a way and you will find a way to connect with them too. Those who don’t, will continue to find excuses 😉
So what does life after WA look like for me: peace, calm, stillness, joy, authentic connections (not all are pleasant of course, but I am glad they are authentic), a lot more time to do meaningful work and overall, I have to say, a higher quality of life.
Life is short. Make every breath count.