“I will not use WhatsApp until I buy another phone,” I told myself at the end of 2021, although I had other options, such as trying out WhatsApp’s multi-device feature “Beta,” which I was using until it logged out and wanted me to log in again using another person’s smartphone,” but instead I said no, that’s it, I will only use Telegram.
During the first few minutes following my decision, I noticed my friends typing on their phones while mine was unusually silent. Suddenly, I was no longer available. It felt strange, uncomfortable, daring, and good all at the same time.
As I previously stated, my initial motivation for such a drastic step had little to do with mindfulness or a desire to be disconnected. My phone was broken beyond repair by the end of 2021, and getting a new phone at the time wasn’t as simple as I had hoped. I mean, it used to be very simple to replace a broken phone with a new one in a very short period, but this wasn’t the case at the time because I had to wait almost 6 months.
My defiance turned into a social experiment:
My app-stinence was off to a good start. Good friends texted, called, or returned my phone calls. Instead of typing and recording messages, I resumed having phone conversations. My family and closest friends even downloaded one of the new non-Facebook messaging apps I recommended, but I went from having 80 contacts to only 12 on my list.
In the beginning, I often felt isolated and as if my friends abandoned me. Some contacts ebbed away, while I had to withstand the odd awkward look of disbelief and discontent from others when I explained that I did not use WhatsApp.
Since it was hard at the start, and I was desperate to form a habit to get something with all the time, I have. A few of such habits, which changed my life are — reading a lot, excising etc.. These new habits gave me fresh hope and helped me to explore a new dimension in my life.
After a few weeks, I noticed that I checked my phone less, no scrolling through my contact list to look for updated profile photos or send messages to people low on the conversation list just to say hello. But I also learned what it meant to miss out and not to be part of groups anymore. It seems like I can fix the duration for my mobile part of my life. Earlier, it was quite the opposite.
‘I can’t believe you blocked me!’
For me, staying away from the app meant keeping a clear head and using other tools to stay in touch with the people in my life. My inactivity, however, was perceived as a snub by some in a world where social currency is based in part on your willingness to post a photo on status or reply to other people’s status.
“A few people approached me and asked if I had blocked them,” I recall. “I thought it was so interesting how this had nothing to do with them — it was something I was doing for myself — but they’d immediately assumed I’d blocked them even though I hadn’t.”
I recall an instance where someone sent me something on WhatsApp and it only received one checkmark symbol, with no profile picture, and he immediately assumed that I had blocked him. I remember one day when I was talking to a friend and it happened that they were together, so he told my friend to ask me why I had blocked him something, which made me wonder if he had other options, such as calling.
Figuring out what friendship means
For the most part, especially during the first few weeks, My friends tried to keep in touch through other means which aren’t WhatsApp. And in some ways, those friendships were able to grow stronger.
Some people used to tell me that I didn’t deserve a new phone because I was sometimes careless with it or because my responses to their messages were delayed because I wasn’t close to my phone, so you can imagine me using a basic phone’, trust me, I used to wake up and forget it in my room for how many hours I don’t know. But [because of] the lack of Whats App, and not being able to see what my friends were doing, I was more willing to reach out, and call, and talk to people.”
“I wanted to hear their voices and hear what’s going on with them. Listen more.”
The experience gave me time to reevaluate and know who real friends are, without the distraction of who was messaging me after viewing my status. It reminded me of the fact that this is how friendships had always been like until just a few short years ago, when having a smartphone became de rigueur.
“You kind of feel like you’re in the dark, but in actuality, this is how it’s been for thousands of years.”