Are chat groups 'enlighteners' or 'eyesores'?

Texting tests, targets, tires our eyes and tasteless forwards test our patience.

06 Apr 2024 05:00pm
For illustrative purposes only. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP
For illustrative purposes only. Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP

UTRECHT - Our mobile mornings can be utterly chaotic. They get-set-start with a flurry of "good morning” forwards usually filled with borrowed, clichéd words of wisdom or with colour-enhanced pictures of floral forests with fountains.

Later through the day, the torrent continues on certain chat groups with overflowing story posts, cards and videos which are like a yo-yo, some reaching heights of heroic wisdom while some succumbing to lowly anecdotes, unverified news clips or wifey jokes.


An Oxford reference for the term "Catch-22” explains it as "A dilemma or difficult circumstance from which there is no escape because of mutually conflicting or dependent conditions”. It’s probably a tailor-made definition suiting our mindset dilemmas with regard to accepting online invitations for being valued members on group chats. At times, we are not even that privileged. We see a new WhatsApp group popping its curious head on our phone lists with your name effortlessly added into it without your knowledge. Call it "taken for granted” dynamism of others towards your obliging nature.

In cases where you are duly allowed your rightful choice on whether or not to join an online group, before you could even put your thinking cap on to decide, there are well-wishers aplenty, pouring out their life wisdom to you. "C’mon don’t be so reluctant, do join”, "It’s just a WhatsApp chat group, be silent if you don’t wish to contribute but do join”, "Mute the group if you don’t wish to be notified but do join”. The decision is made for you. Before you know, there is a message deluge welcoming you to the group.

Facilitating Felicitations

If it is an extended family or friends chat group, your creative juices start flowing almost instantaneously from the next morning where you are smoothly eased into the spectacle of wishing people "happy birthdays” and "happy anniversaries” in your choicest best words or even better with a decorated picture of yours with them to go with your message. There is no way you can miss these landmark moments on group chats. Every such group usually has at least one noble soul who kind of has a hard bound list of "occasion-dates” pertaining to each member of the group. He or she would be the first to post these "birthday” or "anniversary” wishes at the crack of dawn for other mere mortal members to follow suit.

Love it or Leave it

There are two ways of looking at chat groups. Data, trivia, information, videos, alerts and messages are served fresh. If you can skillfully wade through what is wanted or unwanted, you have made the best use of a chat group. If you feel that all hell is not going to break loose if you miss out on these forwards, then these groups are not for you, though in today’s times, it’s easier said than done to unplug from them. The other day, sheer curiosity led me to count the number of chat groups I am in on WhatsApp and I could effortlessly scroll down to 25 of them and didn’t dare to dive anymore deeper.

WhatsApp and its ‘Omnipresence’

"WhatsApp” messaging has become such an integral part of our modern day existence. Your neighbour, cleaner, helper or driver, everyone communicates with you through the medium. It’s a way of life and there is no escape from it even if one chooses to be radically different. I still remember a work-related story from a few years back where there was an official WhatsApp group formed in connection with a global summit being organised. When four of our protocol officers drafted into the reception committee mentioned that they don’t have WhatsApp on their mobiles, the rest of us looked at them as if they belonged to the bygone era of black-and-white movies. This incident helped me realise that WhatsApp’s defining omnipresence cannot be watered down as a casual chat medium. A fact of life which needs to be acknowledged and respected.

Does Group Chats Put Us In a Sticky Box?

Time is super precious and so are our eyes. "Sarvendriyanam Nayanam Pradhanam” is a traditional Indian Sanskrit phrase I grew up on. It means "Of all organs, the eyes are the most vital”. Texting tests, targets, tires our eyes and tasteless forwards test our patience. Sometimes, you end up reading a whole lengthy story forward on a group only to know through a "fact-check” the next day that it’s false or fake. A classic chat group "click-bait”, as my daughter puts it.

The ‘Handyman’ Guide

Group chats can at times be irritatingly painful or extremely useful. A few years back, when my family moved to the Netherlands and were getting acclimatised to its culture and conditions, the diaspora WhatsApp groups were our only source for vital information on topics ranging from "procuring white bulbs” to "securing visa extensions”. When information was not clearly accessible on the internet, all we had to do was to ask a "living need” question on one of these groups and to our surprise, there were many random nice members ever willing to share authentic information and inputs.

Too Close for Comfort

Not every user can clearly distinguish the thin line of difference between a "group chat” and "personal chat”. It almost gives us a panic attack when a member of a group chat jumps the gun and announces your personal plans (shared earlier with them under an unwritten privacy trust) on a group chat. It can land you in a sour "relation-strained” soup. In a scary era loaded with twisted hackers and deepfakes, what you put out there or share on chats becomes extremely delicate, especially when it involves chat groups where members may be known or unknown to you.

Planning Platforms

Chat groups are the easiest platforms to practically put across anything under the sun to a common group. From picnic to party proposals, workshops to weddings, events to entertainment, basically the nitty-gritty of any such things can be shared, planned, organised and worked out within the "sanctum sanctorum” of a chat group consisting of like-minded, trustworthy members. Official group chats usually have premium value as work plans, schedules or last-minute additions/changes can be informally communicated in advance, even in the nick of time when necessary, to avoid official procedures of adhering to formal mails or communications which may take a longer time to be approved before being sent.

Bizarre Banter

There are times we wake up to realise that a chat group is pointing out 120 unread messages. You scroll through to realise that an event is being planned within that community and there are random suggestions/sundry inputs by one and all which is totally fine but at times, these plans get interspersed by a sudden one-to-one banter between two individuals on the group resulting in a marathon message count, both those individuals momentarily unmindful of the fact that it’s a group chat happening for a purpose. Such members can also be "Admins” of a group and it is not always easy to put a lid on such conversations without hurting sentiments.

Curbs and Checks to Streamline Chat Groups

There is not even an iota of doubt about the utility value of right chat groups with their contribution towards time saving and dissemination of crucial information to multiple recipients at one go. The eye-sore only spreads through the eyes of those beholders who get ignorant or negligent to basic conversational and fact-check norms of a group chat society.

The governments of some countries are placing an answerability cap and onus on "Admins” of WhatsApp groups to come clean with acceptable norms of running the group, in adverse cases may even prosecute them if they fail to curb the circulation of fake news on groups. If this group accountability factor is taken care off, the cure can automatically account for the sore. - BERNAMA