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WhatsAppening to us?

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
09 October 2021   |   4:07 am
Around mid-afternoon on Monday, I reached out for my phone in between meetings and another day of working from home – in those late afternoon hours where post-lunch energy slump hits and any form of mental stimulation...

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Around mid-afternoon on Monday, I reached out for my phone in between meetings and another day of working from home – in those late afternoon hours where post-lunch energy slump hits and any form of mental stimulation and inspiration escape me, where even a walk to get a drink becomes too much effort and I resort to social media for inspiration. Hoping for a calming basic flat lay in monochrome or a magical landscape photo of somewhere distant and exotic, I opened Instagram and found the same post I’d seen hours ago. I didn’t think much of it at the time and put it down to my sketchy Internet connection.

It wasn’t for another hour or two, when at the end of the working day, I checked Twitter for the day’s headlines to find Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp trending. Not long after the news reported on all three social media apps being down and they remained so for the next few hours, plunging Mark Zuckerberg’s stock by $7bn and our collective mental health by immeasurable amount! Some were ranting on Twitter about not being able to post on Instagram, some were emergency downloading Telegram to chat to friends until WhatsApp came back on and they could delete the substitute again, while social media managers on Twitter were having a good laugh at Facebook and Co’s expense – Innocent Drinks tweeted:

“Facebook, Instagram & WhatsApp are down, for those of you using Twitter for the first time, it’s basically the same but with less avocados on toast and less group chats with 29 people trying to organise a night out while one friend sends dog GIFs. Oh, and you can only use 24 ch.”

I briefly saw my sister-in-law who looked quite worried at the number of phone calls she was getting from people she hadn’t spoken to for years who were trying to get a hold of her as WhatsApp was down.

The conversation went on into the next day with a few holier-than-thou folk suing social media – ironically – to tell us that they hadn’t even realised these networks were down as they had been so busy all day – yeah right! A friend posted a story about her anxiety over meeting up with friends for dinner without any access to WhatApp until she realised she could make like the olden days and pick up the phone and call them. Influencers of course were bemoaning the fact that their social media income and posting schedule had collapsed over the several hours they couldn’t post to their fans about the latest mascara or trendiest face cream while brand experts were lecturing on about the importance of having one’s own platform independent of social media.

As for me, the enforced detox may have meant I didn’t get the 3:00pm distraction I was hoping for or wish my pooch a happy #WorldAnimalDay, but I did get to read more than just five pages of my book in the evening, without hours of mindless scrolling on social media and got an earlier night.

The irony is these networks will crash again, as they do every three to six months, and we will have the same conversations. Will we ever learn that our attachment/addiction to social media to the extent that we draw up our distractions, dopamine, and daily connections from a little shiny screen on images and emojis is not healthy? I realised, after all, I don’t really need to post a photo my dog on Instagram instead, I could just whisper in her ear…

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