WhatsApp groups and the power of silence

The latest to 'e-form' is a gang from a former workplace.

By Nivriti Butalia

Published: Sun 25 Mar 2018, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 25 Mar 2018, 10:51 PM

WhatsApp groups are where the action is. We all know this, right? And 'mute for one year' is the best thing to have happened to them. Everyone on groups - family, work, carpool, wedding party, college gang, school mums, neighbourhood mums - knows muting is the innovation of the decade. Since 2014, there's also been the gorgeous, sly option to 'mute for one century', but perhaps that's only for the Android crowd. I'll have to check with my tech consultants.
In the past week, there's been a rash of activity on my groups. The latest to 'e-form' is a gang from a former workplace. The tone has been set, as it usually is in the early days. But however fun and irreverent the chatter, the need to mute, like the arguable presence of a higher power, is constant. Never mind eight hour or one week. The cure is nothing less than a year. Short of that is asking for a migraine.
There was activity also on a family group, less fun, less irreverent. The consequence of a recent wedding in the family was a new addition to the group. As a welcome gesture, the group display picture was updated to include the latest entrant. Except. one more person does not change the content, really. One more person just sends a belated thumbs-up emoji in response to the earnest, eternal ghastly forwards.
My policy on these groups used to be: pretend not to have seen it. Parents, in-laws, cousins, siblings - ignore 'em all. There has to be some kind of penalty for the assumption that anyone, even with time at disposal, will want to download and play a 15MB video. Or that other participants care two hoots about the lead content in a supposedly Ayurvedic range of lotions. Or that a Santa-Banta joke that you found funny will similarly tickle others who are blood bound but differently wired. Or that a fervent speech made by some crushed-kurta-wearing Member of the Indian Parliament deserves to be seen more widely. Why, why?!
We all have bores on our groups. We often are the bores. "I didn't add you immediately because I know you hate being on groups," a friend told me when I was the last to be added to one. I grumbled and smarted. But I couldn't argue with it.
One time, someone on the family group got upset that no one, across time zones, in over 48 hours, had responded to an avalanche of photographs taken excitedly at some or the other event where everyone was dressed to the nines, grinning in an assembly line formation. "No more photos now for this group!" was the warning announced and meekly (thankfully?) received. I could hear canons going off in the distance accompanying the two blue ticks. Boom! Family egos, delicate like filigree, smash hard.
What is a universal truth about family groups? A lot of our relatives aren't interesting people. Of course, neither are we. Let there be no mistake that the link of an article you send will be received with a chill and a quiet. A cousin or a sister-in-law might send an anodyne thumbs-up. After all, emojis are the language of diplomacy, the saviours and family-binders of our age. With one key, you can enter the legion of the 'off the hooks'. Ta-dah! "Of course, I responded! I sent a thumb up. Scroll up and see!"
Older folks dealing with emojis is another riot. I was discussing parental use of them with a friend whose dad had sent her a message: "Cheque deposited at such-and-such place". He added two smileys, the hysterical one with blue tears jetting out of both eyes. My friend typed, thanks Papa, but why are you laughing? He was confused. "I am not laughing", he said, "I just sent the emoji closest to my thumb". #EpicDads.

More news from OPINION