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August 2017
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How Whatsapp is shaping our relationships

At the beginning of this year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has bought Whatsapp, a company with only 55 employees, for 19 billion Dollar. But where does this enormous value come from? It is the daily use of Whatsapp in our lives which means the exchange of information through our instant messaging that has made Whatsapp become the most popular communication medium. Nowadays we exchange experiences, impressions but also emotions through text Whatsapp messages, pictures and emoticons. What is known little about is the impact of Whatsapp on our interpersonal relationships and emotional satisfaction within those. That Whatsapp is causing a change in our behavior is not new to us. Researchers in Ghana have found that Whatsapp takes much of students study time and leads to a lack of concentration during lectures and hinders them from completing their assignments. Moreover their study showed that Whatsapp impacts students’ spellings and grammatical construction of sentences negatively. But why is the number of Whatsapp-customers still increasing and what makes it so important to us?  A Spanish student explained it as such: “I don’t really use the latest things. I was using SMS and everyone had WhatsApp and everyone was saying, you are the last one and it costs money to talk with you so get WhatsApp”. So it can be concluded that having Whatsapp, already indicates a desire for group adherence. You either are available on Whatsapp to become informed about you friends and families’ experiences or you become easily excluded out of this community and by this already know that you might miss something out. Most important with this is our ability of social interaction, as another student explained: “We have changed the way of saying important things. We don’t say it through a call, we don’t say it through an email, we send a WhatsApp”. But how does this work in modern interpersonal relationships, can a text message replace a real conversation? I think, that Whatsapp is increasing our emotional pressure and decreases our satisfaction towards a friend or partner in a romantic relationship. If we ask users of Whatsapp about their enjoyment of this device some say “it’s just easy, to settle a date or to share impressions like from a concert or holiday” but others argue “people read too much into when you’re online and when you replied to messages or why you didn’t reply and they try to guess why and sometimes this is annoying”. If we think about this in reflection to our personal life, everyone can probably relate to these issues. For example if we have dinner with a friend, and feel our smartphone constantly vibrating in our pocket we become distracted from the face-to-face conversation already by thinking who and what someone might want from us. Of cause Whatsapp increases our communicative availability but isn’t it also a threat to us because we might feel more under emotional pressure due to the use of Whatsapp?

Especially in situations when for example a girl sends his boyfriend a text message just about how his day was, one can imagine that by the time that he has been online but not replying, we start thinking for reasons, mostly in a bad way whereas he just might have been in the car and had not time to answer the question for his own safety. We all know situations like this where a mean part in our mind makes us imagine the most, and often very unrealistic, circumstances just because we have seen the replier being online without texting back. You don’t need to be a psychologist to notice that this can’t be supportive for relationships. Instead Whatsapp creates feelings of pressure to respond to the message: “I don’t like it very much because if I don’t want to answer straight away, I don’t want them to know that I’ve seen the message”. Besides it also causes a high emotional degree of frustration: “If you’re offline then I don’t expect an answer but if you’re online, it sort of means that it’s in front of you and you are doing other stuff and you are ignoring me…”. Nevertheless we still let social media and instant messaging influence our emotions and relationships on a daily basis, because not using them would exclude us from the community. Moreover we let Mark Zuckerberg make our life’s even harder by including the “seen at … am/pm” response in Facebook or the two ticks which turn blue after someone has read a Whatsapp message. Even though we are not happy with that, “it seems like an invasion of privacy or something to the other person.”, we still need to accept these circumstances in order to be available for information, that we don’t want to miss out. The only advice to all of us, who are marionettes in the play of communication technologies shaping our lives but who still want to use these devices, is to remind ourselves that just because someone has red a message and is not replying does not mean it is less important. It’s just a conversations used to be, when you needed to think for a second of what to say next. With text messages, the philosophy of think first talk after has become even more important, because the written word stays forever.

 

By Marie Köle

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