Meet Amelia, 28, who works in PR and lives in Cape Town. She’s been single for seven years and now the app she thought was her best flirting tool just turned against her in a fit of blue. It’s almost like WhatsApp moved from mystery with last seen to point-blank blatancy, she wails. 2014 was a big year for WhatsApp. The global messaging giant was bought by Facebook for a cool $19-billion and in October it was announced as the most popular messaging app worldwide, with more than 600 million users. Global Web Index’s 2014 Mobile Messaging report shows that WhatsApp dominates in South Africa, pegging its users at a conservative estimate of 11 million. But then Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, came along and stuck his tech-y fingers further into the pie, introducing his ubiquitous blue ticks to show not only when a message has been sent and delivered but also read. The reaction? Amelia, along with women the world over, are in turmoil, peering at the prospect of out-and-out dating doom.
Twitter trended up a storm of panic and memes: Hard times incoming for all #Whatsapp users. Hearts will be broken. Relationships will end, chirped one user; Whatsapp is the opposite of tinder. It’s as if its entire point is to break people up, said another. Google Images spewed out all manner of emoticons, with Two ticks (you’re welcome, divorce lawyers,)and Because everyone deserves to know when they are being ignoredquips. There was even a comical GIF rendition of Britney Spears in a state of emotional flux, one grey tick next to her smiling face, two grey ticks beside her bitchy resting face and the blue, well, let’s just say, devil-eyed crazy-woman face. But what is it about technology’s relatively recent twist that’s got everyone’s knickers in a knot? WhatsApp has f****d it all up. The countdown to a reply, and the awful anxiety that goes with it, begins the minute you see those ticks go blue, says Amelia, who frequently finds herself in painfully delayed back-and-forth WhatsApp torture marathons with men she’s seeing.
According to a study done by Cyberpsycholog y a web-based, peerreviewed journal, Amelia is suffering from double check syndrome, where her knowledge that the recipient has read her message and not replied incites feelings of suspicion, paranoia and insecurity. The report, which was summarised by CNN, states that the phenomenon has already shown itself to be the force behind the break-up of 28 million couples to date. The adage that a solid relationship is all about communication is under serious threat: today, you have so many forms of communication on the go that if you are not constantly in touch, you think something is wrong. Most of the women I spoke to agreed that the double blue tick creates unnecessary panic. Single people who’re dating are already anxious anyway, because you are in unfamiliar territory, testing the ground, finding your feet with this new person in your life. It just adds more speculation to the mix, says Jade*, a 32-year-old Cape Town event organiser.
Vicky Lekone, 24, a PR associate from Joburg, agrees. All this does is just fuel people’s insecurities especially when it comes to dating. Both Jade and Amelia comment that the good old days of the delivery statusat least gave the recipient time to come up with a reason why he hadn’t quite got to his phone yet he must have been at the gym, or dining with a client, or there was shaky cellphone reception and that allowed the acceptable response time to be much longer. But now, with the time-read function (yes, if you hold down on the blue ticks, you can see exactly what time your message was read), all those excuses I make why he hasn’t replied go out the window, laments Amelia. Are we reading too much into it all? Durban-based counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum notes, We live in a society that demands instant gratification and such apps lead us to become impatient, expecting immediate replies and creating pressure despite hectic schedules. This 21st century epidemic, where everything has to happen now instant messaging, same-day delivery, flash facelifts has created a heightened, and unnecessary, sense of urgency. Once a virtue, patience has become relegated to the backburner, as rare as dial-up broadband. The millennial need for speed can, in circumstances like this, be to our detriment. Nikki Branca, psychological counsellor from Wellbeing Consultants SA, advises, Don’t overthink and overanalyse the response time of those messages.
The person may very well have a valid reason why they are not responding immediately and it does not necessarily imply rejection. However, she says that we should be mindful of how our own delays could be interpreted by the recipient. With this new feature we are no longer able to ignore someone we do not feel like responding to, or to delay our answers because we want to think up a better reply, or because we are too busy We have to try and be aware of what the consequences could be. Unfortunately, many men (and women) have not quite cottoned on to the mindfulness thing, and perhaps some never will. But as dating coach Lu-Anne Mulder of lu-anne.co.za points out: WhatsApp is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it encourages communication, because people feel more comfortable hiding behind a cellphone screen; on the other, it can lead to disastrous miscommunication, since texts do not convey our voice tone or body language.
Even with the array of available emoticons, social interaction is still limited by the modalities of online and will remain inherently ambiguous, unable to convey the non-verbal cues that make up an alarmingly large 93 percent of face-to-face interaction. While each woman I spoke to praised instant messaging apps for the ability to get to know someone easily, cheaply and without intimidation, most of them expressed the desire for a good old-fashioned phone call when negotiating the early phases of a relationship. So, if they could, would they turn off the blue ticks? The response was resoundingly no. I would turn it off on my own account, so people can’t see when I have read their messages, but my morbid curiosity and desire for self-torture wouldn’t allow me to switch it off the other way round I want to know if he has read it, even though I do not really want to!says Amelia. The unanimous opinion about the blue ticks in WhatsApp was that they can simply confirm an unpleasant truth sooner rather than later, as noted by 32-year-old Joburger Nkuli*: I have resolved with myself that he will do what he wants to do. If he does not reply, he could be busy. But if hours pass by before any reply, it lets me know where I stand with him; and maybe he’s not someone worth being too hung up on.