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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Why WhatsApp groups are the bane of my existence

Baby photos often appear duplicate across the different groups, and what can you do but respond, “So adorable! She is so big already! [emoji with heart eyes]”.

There’s nothing quite as stressful as that red notification number creeping into the dozens Alamy
There’s nothing quite as stressful as that red notification number creeping into the dozens Alamy

A few days ago, my editor suggested we start an Arts&Lifestyle team WhatsApp group. I let out a guttural scream – a primal yawp. Why?

Well, by the time it’s 11am, I’ve gone through about 47 messages on this app on my phone. I’m not a particularly popular person. It’s something totally different: the tyranny of the WhatsApp groups.

These groups started out as a helpful addition to the messaging app, but the situation lately has gone mad. I’m in 12 regular groups, and about 40 ad hoc ones. There’s one for each child’s class at school – in my case, two children. I also took the masochistic decision to be a class rep: another WhatsApp group. Then, there are the splinter class groups: the regular chats with parents of older children who make fun of the parents with children newer to the school. Ten messages for Abdullah’s lost towel? Tommy has taken home Noor’s? Eye roll. How much time do these women have? (The irony about the time spent on the splinter WhatsApp groups, of course, goes unremarked.)

Then there are family groups: immediate family and extended family, with baby photos often appearing on duplicate across them. What can you do? You have to respond! “So adorable! She is so big already! (emoji with heart eyes)”. My brother has a long-term girlfriend but isn’t married yet – so we have two groups of differing levels of familiarity, one with her, one without. (Sadly, the chats are interchangeable – no one knows why this charade even exists.)

Then, location and various women’s WhatsApp groups. I’m on one with 99 members (a fact that is often noted, in entirely extraneous texts): these women are always talking. Anyone know the number for management? I’m looking for a family photographer. My pool is overrun with pigeons – does anyone have a falcon I could borrow? (Not. Joking.) Plus the temporary groups that pop up and fade like flowers in the snow: Working Mums over Half-Term 2018. Weekend Camping November 9. Easter break 2019!

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And the very worst: birthday and party WhatsApp groups. That’s a minimum of 15 messages where everyone chimes in that they can come: “Looking forward to it! Let me know what I can bring (exploding paper cone emoji, popping bottle emoji, birthday cake emoji)”. And then the day after you have to go through the whole rigmarole in ­reverse: “Thank you so much for having us! We had such a great time! (smiley face emoji, heart emoji, fireworks emoji)”. Enough.

The worst part is: you can’t leave. It’s a mortal sin! The social consequences of “Melissa Gronlund has left the group” far outweigh wading through the emoji chatter. It’s the equivalent of turning your back and walking away. And what do you say if you want to go? “Sorry that I have to be leaving this group, all this chat about lost towels is really making me regret my decision to have children”? It’s not like you can pretend you have somewhere else to be.

With that in mind, here are some new WhatsApp rules that need to be laid down if we want to make it to 45 without having crippling carpal tunnel syndrome.

Before you text, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a question that’s necessary for the group, or could it be solved by Google/your mum?
  • Does this WhatsApp have to go to the whole group? “Thank you for the birthday present, Clare!” can go straight to Clare.
  • Is there someone sitting next to you with an evil stare while you are crying with laughter at the crying with laughter emoji? Hilarious though some WhatsApps can be, at 9pm, it’s time to put the phone on flight mode and pay attention to the other (physical) people in the room.