Fayes T Kantawala is done with family Whatsapp groups

For a change of pace I visited some family over the last weekend. The reason was twofold. One, I am obliged to say, is that I am a loving and generous person intent on keeping alive familial bonds. The

second is that, as chance would have it, I had rented out my place on Air BnB for the weekend to four Latvian girls and actually made a pretty penny (assuming I don’t have bed bugs when I get back). It’s always nice to get out of NY after a protracted stay, but it’s positively life-affirming when you do it the week there are a series of bombs. I left days before the bombs detonated but as my train pulled out of Penn Station, my phone buzzed with news that right outside the station a man had been shot after attacking a cop with a machete (isn’t it strange to me that machetes are as readily available as they appear to be?).

The author's patience with being asked to start a farm on Facebook, or crush candies, has worn thin
The author's patience with being asked to start a farm on Facebook, or crush candies, has worn thin

On the way over I opened up my family Whatsapp group to catch up on all the news I may have missed. I existed quite happily on the internet for years before The Family Whatsapp Group became a thing. It was a gentle, lovely, simple time but time stands still for no one. No One. Now I wake up most mornings to 788 unread messages and 656.5 MB worth of pictures, interspersed with daily updates on schedules, itineraries and lots of hearts-for-eyes emojis. I know you know what I’m talking about, because chances are you are in the clutches of your own whatsapp group too. It starts off nicely enough, doesn’t it? Real time communication with all the members of your family, friends and cousins (there is rarely just one group after all) with an immediacy that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, as if they are basically in the next room. You shoot messages off to each other rapidly and revel in the novelty of being in touch 24/7.
This should be fairly obvious, but I don't want to be invited to play Candy bloody Crush on Facebook

But the messages keep coming. And coming. Before you know it your phone has no more space on it because most of it has been taken up with videos of Shahrukh Khan imitations or a picture of a cat wearing a party favor that you never even remember seeing. So you do the only thing one can to save space: you (gasp!) turn off the notifications from the group, making it so that you have to click on something before it downloads to your phone. Of course you never actually do click, choosing instead to squint at the hazy preview image and deciding that as long as no one is dying it’s probably OK to skip the latest batch of pictures. But by now your silence is conspicuous, and someone on the group calls you out by asking what you thought of the last video. You sense a trap, so you laugh loudly (capital LOL) and send lots of heart emojis in an effort to drown out the suspicion in a vat of pixelated affection.

The trick only works so many times.

Before you know it you can’t even catch up on the texts because that one relative has decided that it’s easier to copy and paste ENTIRE ARTICLES into the group rather than emailing them to you, an act that

is nothing less than online terrorism. While we are on the subject, there should be some kind of etiquette class given on what kinds of things people are allowed to forward to you, and I don’t just mean on

Whatsapp but on everything social media.

This should be fairly obvious, but I don’t want to be invited to play Candy bloody Crush on Facebook. If I did, you’d know by the fact that I was a loser. I don’t want to be invited to play some farm animal game or indeed any game at all. Don’t do it. Also, don’t share articles from bogus Eastern medicine conspiracy theory websites. If turmeric could cure cancer, know that someone at Johns Hopkins would have figured it out too. Your act of sharing a virus-ridden website crammed with unproven information is not going to suddenly revolutionise the oncology departments and cure cancer. This also goes for crystals, the power of garlic, chakras and magnetism.

NY came under attack this week, leading to the usual environment of fear and suspicion which follows such incidents
NY came under attack this week, leading to the usual environment of fear and suspicion which follows such incidents

Also - and I think this is important for most desis to know - no airline is going to give you free first-class tickets for life if you decide to share their page. Indeed, sharing and tagging ten people on it will never get you anything except resentful stares. I am sorry if this is ruining your day, but it’s true. Pull yourself together.

But we are, all of us, part of the social media fabric now and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. For all the un-downloaded pictures and long articles, I like hearing the noisy clamour of my family group and friends groups. I may not participate in them vigorously, but as in life I do like to stalk them silently from the corners of the virtual room, calm in the knowledge that they are there.

That said - don’t share any animal videos. It’s just not cool.

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com