The British royal family has a Whatsapp group. This scintillating insight – perhaps the most fascinating since we got wind of Queen Elizabeth's Tupperware fetish – comes via Mike Tindall, the other half of Princess Anne's daughter, Zara. "Me, my brother and then a few of Zara's side like her brother Pete and the cousins are on Whatsapp groups," he told the Mirror newspaper, prompting a flurry of gleeful thigh rubbing among tabloid editors at this image of the younger royals congregating on Whatsapp to share the obligatory heart emojis over Kate's pregnancy scan pictures, or to plan Meg and Harry's wedding. (Meghan: Thinking of monogramed stetsons as favours for the guests? Pippa: Triple vomit emoji)
Tindall went on to say he was in “25,000 Whatsapp groups”.
“You’re scared to leave because you don’t want to be seen to be rude,” he said, in a reference to that most pressing of contemporary etiquette dilemmas. Namely, how do you extract yourself from a Whatsapp group without causing offence, especially when the other members of the group happen to be your very good friends or extended family?
There’s a simple answer Mike. You don’t.
Whatsapp is wonderful. It’s brilliant. It’s ground-breaking. Not since the pill has a single innovation had the potential to so comprehensively revolutionise family life. Sure, Skype brought a new dimension to keeping up with family abroad, but scheduling calls across time zones still involves a lot of back and forth, a lot of shouted instructions over dodgy wifi connections about turning on your camera, for jaysussake.
Leaving a family Whatsapp group is the modern equivalent of dying and bequeathing everything to the parish
Unlike Skype, Whatsapp is easy to use and instantaneous making it ideally engineered to cater to the needs of large, geographically dispersed groups of all ages, people who enjoy talking a lot without saying anything much of significance, and who might appreciate the opportunity to deliver passive aggressive reminders to emigrants of all the fun they’re missing. In other words, it couldn’t be more perfect for Irish families. You don’t even have to put your make-up on, or pretend you don’t have a hangover to use it.
It’s low pressure – but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s no pressure. Whatsapp family groups, in particular, can be a bit of a minefield. Certain questions demand to be answered. What is the image that defines us as a group of people? What does “family” mean anyway? Does it include in-laws? Grandchildren? Nieces and nephews? Why are you pretending you didn’t see my message when your status says “online”?
Which brings us to another downside of Whatsapp: it has made family rows much more public, instantaneous and frictionless. (You might, of course, regard this as one of its most appealing features. If so, no judgement here.) Before Whatsapp, you had to wait for an invitation to a Christmas lunch or a wedding so you could signal a pending or current huff by turning it down, and then wait for the barrage of what’s-wrong-huns. Throwing a major strop could take weeks or even months of planning and ignoring and rejecting, until someone finally noticed and reacted. With Whatsapp you can conduct what I think of as the instaflounce at the time and place of your choosing, simply by removing yourself from the relevant group.
Leaving a family Whatsapp group is the modern equivalent of dying and bequeathing everything to the parish – and the best part is, you don’t have to be dead to do it.
If your own family or friends Whatsapp group hasn’t yet had an instaflouncer, it probably has a festering instaflouncer, someone who hasn’t actually pulled a full remove yet, but who is carefully cultivating their apathy by leaving everything on read, or communicating only in passive-aggressive emojis. (You know, like the Indian head massage girl, the eye-roll emoji, or the small, yellow-faced king of unresolved issues and chips-on-shoulders: scratching chin guy.)
The other, often underappreciated feature of Whatsapp groups is the Whatsapp splinter group. Since the first rule of the Whatsapp splinter group is that you don’t talk about the Whatsapp splinter group, you’ll only know for sure of the splinter group’s existence once you’ve been invited to join it.
If you haven't been invited to join, I'm sorry to say that you're probably the reason for its existence. The usual purpose of the splinter group is to moan about the members of the main group: how [redacted] is spamming the group with boring photos of her [redacted], and why [redacted] never replied to [redacted]'s messages about lunch, and why someone really needs to explain to [redacted] how to use Whatsapp. I'm not in any Whatsapp splinter groups, by the way. I've just heard tell of their existence. I don't even know how you get invited to join one, but I imagine it's the digital equivalent of the scene in Fight Club where Edward Norton's character spots a bruised mailboy in the office, and a moment of wordless, mutual recognition passes between them. That's all I'm saying.
So yes, family Whatsapp groups are like families themselves: alternately funny, useful, annoying, supportive, loving, nagging, prone to misunderstandings and moments of occasional hilarity. Always there, whether you want to be part of them or not. You can mute them any time you like. But you can never leave.