Playing catch-up on WhatsApp: What messaging apps tell you about real-life connections

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 28 Oct 2022, 8:14 PM

WhatsApp contacts — or ‘friends’ — may not be as fake as Facebook or Insta ones, but, at times, the idea of WhatsApp-ing does make you wonder about real connections. Unless you see a familiar display photo and typefaced name, you will perhaps not know who this person is — because we have no idea of anyone’s, even ‘closest’ contacts’, phone numbers anymore.

There used to be a time when the phone numbers of people you cared about were stored in your brain. Till today, I remember the (evolving) landline number we had over the course of my growing up years. I knew my best friends’ numbers by heart… even most of my ‘good’ friends’ numbers. Ditto for family members we would chat with often. These days, I have problems remembering my own number: whenever I am asked at a sales counter for my number — so that my purchase can be connected to unfathomable retail points I rack up — I rack my brains and arrive at it with a certain amount of struggle and mental math.

But the most telling pointer to the disconnectedness unfolds when you change phones. I changed my phone recently, and many of my WhatsApp contacts were lost. I went into a tizzy and did a stocktaking from my old phone’s contact list, wrote out names and phone tags on a piece of paper (what a huge task that was!), and then inserted them back into my new gadget.

It was while doing the manual migration and taking fresh cognizance of my contacts’ list, I noticed a cousin brother’s phone number. He lives in Bangalore, and I’d last chatted with him on WhatsApp a couple of years ago. After that, we drifted apart — as is par for the course in an age of attention deficiency. I had almost forgotten he exists, though you never would have guessed that if you saw our threads from 2020, it was like we had redefined (cousin) brother-sister bonhomie.

So, there I was staring glassily at his contact that had somehow migrated on its own accord. Should I send him a message and check on him, I wondered. My wonderment may have had to do with a curiosity to know whether or not he has finally snagged a girlfriend (his lack of one is a big talking point in family circles).

Then I noticed his display photo box was empty — which led me to assume that maybe he’s changed his number, and this one no longer belongs to him. His name display, however, was the same. Worth taking a chance.

“Hi, how are you?” I typed. “It’s been a while.”

Five minutes later, he asks, “Hi, may I know who this is?”

“Is this XXXX [his name] from Calcutta, and then Gurgaon and now Bangalore?”

“Yes, yes,” I could almost sense his impatience. “But who are you?”

He couldn’t make out who I was because, currently, I have a Matisse painting as my DP. And he must have changed his phone, and my number must have gotten displaced during the transition (or several transitions) so my name was not showing up as a contact. Plus, he was clearly too lazy to click on my DP and check my information panel that has my name.

“I am the Tinder swindler,” I typed this time around. My idea of pathetic fun.

“Eh? Who? Did I meet you on a date?”

“Oh, so you are on Tinder?”

“What kind of a question is that? I am NOT on Tinder.”

“Is that because you already have a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend, and don’t plan to have one either. But who are you?”

“You dolt,” I finally capitulated. “Check my information tag.”

He did.

“OMG, it’s you!!!”

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