‘I am in too many WhatsApp groups I don’t want to be in’

Tanya Sweeney: Save me from the ‘wild mums’, school pals and bin-obsessed neighbours

What’s up? WhatsApp groups are making it impossible to avoid the people and conversations that you could easily sidestep in real life.  Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

What’s up? WhatsApp groups are making it impossible to avoid the people and conversations that you could easily sidestep in real life. Photograph: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

 

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: you keep getting pushed into rooms full of people, entirely against your will. Some of the people in this room, you like. Many, you barely tolerate. Yet you have to stick around, because the person who pushed you into the room will probably get offended if you try to leave.

It may sound like one of those crazy dreams we’re all having, but it’s the reality of being added to WhatsApp groups you don’t want to be in. Clearly, the online etiquette rulebook has been ripped up in what we’ll delicately call These New Times We Live In.

What was once a handy messaging service on our smartphones has now become a hotbed of cliques, banter and social trip-wires. Because the leaving and joining of these WhatsApp groups is more delicate than I ever could have imagined.

Zoom quizzes five nights a week I can manage, just about. Watching films along with groups of friends I am happy to tolerate (though honestly, how did our social schedules get so packed?). But this, the unsolicited and wayward WhatsApp group adding – it’s too much.

Because we are all using WhatsApp for work, the app is on, all the time. And this does leave most people with a smartphone in a particular quandary. Now it’s impossible to avoid the people and conversations that you could easily sidestep in real life.

Remember how we all used to say, “we must get together for pints soon”? Well, “we must get together for a Zoom soon” has decidedly less chime to it. Worse again, people are inclined to take you up on your non-offer.

Nearest and dearest

I get it: everyone is looking for a social connection in These New Times We Live In. Those who live on their own want to keep socially busy. Of course people want to instigate conversations with their nearest and dearest. I just don’t understand why I, neither near nor dear, have to be involved.

Everyone has been added to at least one of these WhatsApp groups. There’s the “Wahey, we’re the wild mums” group, where the main conversational cornerstone is asking about when gin o’clock is happening, as though this is the first time gin o’clock has ever occurred to anyone in the world. They ask this at 2pm, every day.

Then, there’s the WhatsApp group in which everyone is The Best Pandemic Person, doing all sorts of strenuously performative things such as sharing sourdough recipes, showing off their painted ceiling and writing things like, “Five minutes until Joe Wick’s PE class! See you all there!” If you could set fire to a WhatsApp group, it would be this one.

There’s also the neighbours group, where messages about brown bins and teenagers not social distancing fly back and forth, making up most of the “chat”.

Then, there’s the old school friends WhatsApp (Covid Class of ’94), in which there’s always one member who has way too much time on their hands. This person is only too happy to post damning pictures of everyone sporting hockey goalie apparel/dreadlocks/penny loafers/horrifyingly hormonal acne/all of the above. Pictures that we thought and hoped would never see the light of day again, if it weren’t for this pesky WhatsApp. Of course, you have to *crying with laughter emoji * along, and be a good sport. As if life isn’t exhausting enough right now.

Compromised state

Worst of all, there’s the WhatsApp group that you have been added to by a girl you met in the toilet queue at Electric Picnic, years ago. In your compromised (read: absolutely leathered) state, you bonded over not having a wet wipe to call your own, and you swore to be pals forever.

Come the following Monday, of course, you looked at your new Facebook friend requests and wondered aloud: “Who the hell is Claire?” But Claire remembered. Claire remembered, and true to her word, took you into the squidgy bosom of her social circle, obediently liking every time you so much as sneezed on social media.

And now you find yourself in a WhatsApp group with her and 13 strangers, trying to ignore links to articles on 5G masts. Bloody Electric Picnic.

I dream of starting a WhatsApp group full of people I actually like

My favourite group, of course, is the media one, where an industry colleague added a cluster of film/TV/writer/newspaper types to a WhatsApp group, ostensibly so we could have a gripe about the precarious futures of our respective industries. Alas, there were so many egos, rivalries and enemies in the group that the conversation didn’t last beyond the first message.

Occasionally, you’ll be notified that someone Has Left The Group. This is not unlike taking a full-page advert out in this very newspaper that says “I Hate You All”. And so you stay. You stay and you endure.

I dream of starting a WhatsApp group full of people I actually like. But then, you become the creator of one of these WhatsApp groups, and who wants to be one of those? Nope, best to tell everyone that you’ll see them for pints soon. And this time, you can sort of mean it.

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