|Illustration: Sanira Mendiratta|
Whenever three or more people get engaged in any kind of activity, one of them commits the sin of uttering the five most futile words in the English language: “Let’s make a WhatsApp group.” This puts everybody involved in a bind, as an honest opinion is not what friends and families want. So how do you respond when someone insists, “WhatsApp group yahin banayenge!”
You know the drill — four school friends have met after a decade, they feel guilty for not being in touch, they make a Goa plan that’ll never materialise, and just to show commitment to the cause, one of them declares that a WhatsApp group called Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is a mist. A group, that’ll end up discarded like Hrithik Roshan’s phone that Farkhan Akhtar flung out of a moving car.
Of course, not all pointless WhatsApp groups are created equal. Some are borne out of guilt. Some come into being through sheer stupidity. And some out of compulsion. An office group with bosses is no fun, so let’s create another group without them so we can bitch about them. But then, there are also other coworkers that you want to bitch about, so let’s create another group excluding them. Then, how about a “core friends group” where you do charcha about everyone else except those in the group? And all of this effort is just so that you can gossip.
Let’s not forget the “official” group where work-related stuff is discussed. This group functions a lot like the office: Everyone is politically correct and it’s here where the manager wakes up every Friday evening to assign “urgent” assignments to the team. And then there are those colleagues, who don’t waste a chance to create a new chat group – one of every new project, one for the potluck, one for the dreadful office party.
There might be 20 people in the entire office but it has 15 chat groups. Of course, most of these groups are pointless as a steak knife at a vegan dinner.
As painful as office WhatsApp groups are, as you switch jobs, they come and go, much like India’s recent spate of RBI governors. But there is no escape from family, and by extension, from family Whatsapp groups, the darkest corner of the internet. There is a family group, there is an extended family group, there are various variations of groups with cousins, and there is one where you’re connected with relatives from your hometown. Despite the variety of family WhatsApp groups, each works like the other: It is replete with good morning messages, festival wishes, birthday wishes, and fake news forwards about how a Pepsi worker’s blood got mixed with the product and he had AIDS so you shouldn’t drink Pepsi anymore. Family WhatsApp groups are the only place where your true bigotry is on display. And even after heated debates between chacha and bhatija over Modi ji, none exit the group. Because come Raksha Bandhan, they’ll have to meet – chacha is one who gives his nephew money for the daaru party and he returns the favour by forwarding his uncle some “raunchy clips”. So there’s an awkward silence for hours until chachi ji sends that video about that “crocodile spotted in Dadar”. You just sit and suffer through it, like the time you shelled out 500 bucks to catch the first day-first-show of Happy New Year.
While offshoots of school, college, family, and office WhatsApp groups contribute to most of the junk on our phones, there are also random groups that come to life once every few months, like Hema Malini before a general election. These are friends from gym, football buddies, dance class mates, or those two people you once met at a trek five years ago. Friends come and go but the life cycle of a WhatsApp group remains the same. It first begins with bundles of energy, discussions, and debates, with everyone taking part like it was the first day of school. Eventually the enthusiasm wears off and the group is restricted to wishing people on birthdays and forwarding links of your MBA survey because you need hits. A few months down the line, when people stop responding to even anniversary wishes, the group itself goes into a lull, never to be seen active again.
I know there’s debate around the success rate of PM’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, but a WhatsApp clean-up act is what we need in the digital space. I think we all need to come to an agreement that extraneous groups need to go. Don’t we all need a break from each other? Do we really need an office group after we spend close to 10 hours slogging it out together? And does a family of four need one to debate whether to have baingan or bhindi for dinner over WhatsApp?
We tend to create WhatsApp groups with a lot more enthusiasm and with equal fervour put it on mute. So if you we can’t stand most most of these chats, the only logical reply to someone saying let’s make a WhatsApp group, is, let’s not.
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