How Whatsapp, BBM and Viber have ruined conversations

Today we've reached a stage where we're seeing proliferation of not just devices but software through which we communicate. Am I the only one who has more messenger services on their phone than actual friends?


Recently, the Internet exploded with news that Blackberry Messenger, the now defunct phone company's messaging application, had been made available on Android and iOS.

The news hit social media like a tsunami. The first wave was of nostalgic users sharing their BB Pins and inviting others to get in touch. The second wave was of users sharing fake BB pins calling the first wave a bunch of idiots.

The third wave comprised Whatsapp users mocking the former and latter for spamming their Facebook and Twitter timelines for talking about an obsolete messaging system. Through all of this I had a senior moment: all I could think of was how drastically how we communicate has changed.

 How Whatsapp, BBM and Viber have ruined conversations

Reuters

When I was in school, mobile phones were a rarity. Call rates were close to Rs16 a minute and devices like my brick-sized Siemens S4 were used more as weapons than communications devices. Not only did they make calling someone easy, they singlehandedly saved fashion by killing the "douchebag who hangs a pager on his belt" look.

Today we've reached a stage where we're seeing proliferation of not just devices but software through which we communicate. Am I the only one who has more messenger services on their phone than actual friends? Turn on your television and you'll see advertising for the following messengers - BBM, Whatsapp, iOS Messages, WeChat, Viber, Line and Kik.

To this add calling, texting, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook messenger and email. What's the point of having the same bunch of people over multiple platforms? Why do these messenger advertisements always show young people with spiky hair, in classrooms, organising important events like meetings in the canteen or watching a movie? When did how you communicate become more important than what you communicate?

I realise I'm sounding like those old uncles who never return the cricket ball, but I feel access to so many forms of communication has left us in some type of emotional warp.

A friend told me recently that she switched from Whatsapp to Viber because "it has better emoticons". It's not as if forgetting how to type full sentences or spelling 'that' as 'DaT' wasn't bad enough already. Now we have a generation growing up with the idea of communicating only using animated faces designed by an under-sexed Japanese graphic designer in some dungeon.

I won't be surprised if in 10 years at a funeral, instead of actual crying, entire families just text each other the crying emoticon. Corporations might sell it under the guise of making friends, but our world increasingly seems to revolve around networks of acquaintances. With newer acquaintances we forget the old ones and dump their memory in our brain with a time stamp saying, "last seen at".

Once upon a time, we had the concept of a singular family landline phone and just look at everything it taught us. Patience to wait our turn while someone else was on the phone. Stealth to talk to girls after school without letting anyone know. Financial management, since your family would skin you if the bill exceeded a certain amount. All these skills are alien to my younger cousins who take the freedom of being able to communicate at will for granted.

With the family landline, there was little time for generic small-talk; with mobile phones, conversations are a circle jerk of how the other person is doing, spattered with routine events like eating lunch presented with grandiose pomp and show. It's talking for the sake of talking. Not because one needs to, but because one can.

I'm not sure what the future of instant messaging is. Perhaps in a few years we will be celebrating the return of Whatsapp and WeChat the way we did BBM a few weeks ago. All I'm going to hope for is better conversations and an end to forwarded Rajinikant jokes. Till then if you want to reach me, pick up the phone and call.


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