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Workplace Worries: Whatsapp With All The Whatsapping?

Aditi posted on 09 July

“I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, and so I called him at home, and he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.” ~Drew Barrymore in He’s Just Not That Into You.

Our purely academic pursuit of He’s Just Not That Into You left us with this important conundrum to think about. We have every technology we need to communicate with most people in our universe. The launch of new messaging platforms {I have been invited to Hike, not to Annapurna, more than once} brings up the existential question of whether these new services should really exist, and what they’re going to offer that we don’t already have.

Not that we have an issue with new technology and enterprise, but it’s the accompanying rulebook we’re worried about. It all goes back to Whatsapp, and the indiscriminate infiltration of business communication on this platform that we reserved for mindlessness.

You see, when ICQ started, we loved this whole chat thing. We moved on to MSN Messenger and then to G-chat, and chat we must. Chatting involved a different screen and a different stream of consciousness from plain old texting. Texts were charged per message; therefore sentence formation was important, and what it provided was immediacy in communication, but not anytime access. You could send a text without expecting an immediate response; therefore you said what you had to say and left it at that.

In the meanwhile, work moved quickly from landline to mobile. Whether your company policy dictates that personal mobile numbers are printed on your business card or not, it soon became clear that workplace acquaintances and accomplices were able to reach you regardless of your proximity to your desk. We never liked the desk anyway. So far, so good.

The next battle for so many was whether to get email notifications on their phone. Many people I know still don’t. Spending a decent proportion of their waking life at the office, can’t email just wait to be read the next day? But my boss had email on his phone, and so I got it too.

The text / email pair worked really well. An email was sent based on the sender’s convenience and state of mind; a text sometimes followed to inform the recipeint about said email, indicating urgency when needed. We signed away our work/life balance one application at a time, but hey, can’t say we didn’t sign up for this.

All acceptable so far. But can you please, please just leave our Whatsapp alone?

The thing is, Whatsapp brought chat back. And a strange thing happened. It overcame the age vs. technology barrier, with more parents getting on board than the number of parents trying to get us married. Every mad family {even though you swear yours is by far the maddest} got their own little group. Cousins reunited. Girls vented, seeking only the solidarity of emoticons. Groups formed for events and disbanded. Nobody was left out. In a charming throwback, there was often a delayed reaction to a previous statement when you had swiftly moved on to the next thought, kind of like old school long-distance trunk calls.

Whatsapp was a happy place. For silly jokes that cost nothing to send. For thoughts of no consequence which kept us united in our basic experience of life. For spur of the minute shopping that needed immediate approval. For distant friends and family who could see our glass of wine and raise us one. Cheers to that.

So when the dark day dawned when I saw a Whatsapp message saying ‘Sent email; please check when you can’, this heart sank.

Is it really necessary? To us, there are a few legitimate reasons for contacting someone on Whatsapp. One is cost. We assume, since this relates to work, that the sender of Whatsapp is employed and therefore paid. The other is immediacy. No matter what your nature of business, do you really need to know when I was last seen awake?

We know there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Technology is evolving faster than spoken language and if we’re now saying amazeballs, we’re ready to embrace changing times. But here’s the thing – Whatsapp is our happy place. A place to be silly. A place for minions. A place for pre-wedding choreography chats that we will sorely miss when the bidai is done. A place to share an unrestricted number of photos from the night before until we have one where everyone’s eyes are open. You ask me for my professional opinion, I’ll send you a brinjal.

We open our Whatsapp chats every morning, expecting news from dear and afar, and we’d like to keep it that way. We’re declaring it NSFW – Not Suitable For Work.