Like most people nowadays I use a bunch of messaging apps to keep in touch with others. My weapons of choice are Whatsapp (the most popular) and Telegram (the dark horse). In fact in months I haven’t sent an sms from the regular messages app on my phone. Turns out there are still too many people on Android for me to live in an iMessage world. Even thought whatsapp is the more popular choice, using the telegram app has its benefits including a nifty webapp which makes replying all the less strenuous when I’m at work.
I don’t use the word strenuous lightly though. Sometimes just keeping up with the barrage of messages and the ones I need to follow up with can be quite a chore. These two thumbs of mine can only type that fast.
Also the ubiquity and ease of setting up groups in whatsapp means that almost any topic, group or event can have a group made for disseminating info and, of course, messaging.
Some of my friends are speed demons when it comes to touch typing. Now imagine a group of them furiously filling the messaging thread with message after message. Not only does the content fly over my head but the constant stream of notifications does get quite unbearable.
Still when you’re organizing an event, having a group chat helps make all the information available to everyone at the same time. Imagine trying to message or call and repeat verbatim to 21 different individuals at the same time?
Group messaging is also conceptually a very different method of communication than we’ve ever experienced before. Imagine that you’re messaging your friend invidually but because both of you are part of a larger clique you’re also part of said gang’s group chat. Now you could be responding to messages from the your friend whilst similarly messaging him/her on the group chat. To try to come up with a suitable analogy, imagine having dinner with a group of people where you are maintaining a conversation with the while table while also keeping one or many separate private conversations going simultaneously. Yet each conversation is still isolated and private from the rest. It’s like holding up different tubes to each ear and hearing clearly the voices coming through the tube but the rest of the people on the table don’t hear it. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds to managed different conversations simultaneously but at times it gets messy.
Now expand that analogy further. Depending on how social you are you could be receiving messages locally, globally, spanning different age groups and demographics and even ideologies. This won’t happen all the time but at key points (e.g Holidays, history-in-the making events) you could be getting messages by the second. Right now following the passing of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, my various groups have been overflowing with updates to the point where I’ve actually had to set my phone aside for a while.
One could argue that it is vastly important in this day and age to be on top of the news what with things happening at greater speed. I’d argue that good as it may be, sometimes too much of a good thing can be too much. I think that the human mind can only take so much before it becomes overloaded and unable to function properly. Me thinks that it’s high time that I put some boundaries around how whatsapp interferes with my life.
In the old days when instant messaging was catching on people used sms and things like msn messenger or ICQ to message each other. The limitations of sms were that it wasn’t free so people either had to be willing to pay to message more or be a bit more prudent with how they messaged. With ICQ and msn messenger you could always log off when you were done and when others saw you were offline they’d stop messaging too.
None of these limitations really apply to whatsapp and other messaging apps. Messages take up so little data that you could almost message limitlessly. And there’s no way to ‘log off’ from whatsapp. As long as your phone is on people can message you, be it at 4pm in the afternoon or 4am in the morning.
I currently have 4-5 active whatsapp groups at the moment. My younger sister helpfully told me that teenagers nowadays have dozens of chat groups going at one time. Blimey!
Evidently I’m from a different era.
In order to maintain some semblance of control over my life I’m making a few changes.
- Firstly I’m activating Do Not Disturb mode on my phone. You can easily schedule it under the settings.
This way messages received will no longer make your phone buzz at all during the period I’ve scheduled.
- Next I’m turning off notifications from whatsapp groups. Not all of them mind you, just the ones that have the most ‘white noise’.
Turns out it’s super easy to do that. All you have to do is set up custom notifications. This is a setting you get when you tap the group name and see the group info screen.
By tapping custom notifications you get to turn on notifications to turn them off. A bit of a paradox but it serves it’s purpose.
I thought long and hard about which groups I want to turn off and some are quite clear cut. Others I’m approaching with a ‘try and see’ attitude where I’ll turn off the notifications for a week and, unless I end up missing too many important messages, will probably leave it that way afterwards.
And that’s pretty much it. I hope that with those 2 simple steps I’d be able to gain some semblence of control over the constant buzzing from my phone for the next week. Short of deleting the apps (not realistic) there’s little else I can do which makes it good that with a bit of tweaking it’s possible to reduce some of the noise in my life so that I can again focus on the things that matter.