Make sure you are using your apps to strengthen your bonds, and don't fall into these traps.
WhatsApp proposes groups on just about any topic … a fund-raising drive for Dad’s 50th anniversary present, horticulture groups, parish groups. It may seem that this fabulous app, a symbol of our virtual relationships in an age when digital tsunami is implacably sweeping everything on its way, is indispensable. Many families find it irresistible. But we invite you to take a closer look at WhatsApp’s promises and limitations.
When your whole life is displayed on WhatsApp
Daphne, 24, is listing the groups she participates in on regular bases: “A group with my mom and sisters, a group with my sisters, but without my mom, one with my parents, one with my sisters and brothers-in-law, one with the extended family on both sides …” There are also groups reserved to her friends or colleagues. In this space outside time, baby pictures run into messages of all kinds: announcing births, weddings or sharing the excitement of a graduation day. At 65, Betty has nothing but words of praise for this new form of communication: “I love WhatsApp, because it allows me to follow the life of my kids and grandkids.”
Aside from preserving the bonds, it allows you to cultivate and sustain the family spirit. “What I appreciate the most is the sense of humor. My day begins with these comical messages. I am sure our bond is stronger than ever, thanks to Whatsapp,” Betty says. Annie is ecstatic about making it possible for her daughters to hear the weekly installments of Alice in Wonderland read by their grandmother from somewhere in the Indian Ocean. This is how families, living in the four corners of the world and struggling to get together once a year, strengthen their bond in the age of internet.
Everyone is talking, but is anyone listening?
For Marie-Laetitia Basile, a therapist at a nursing home in Paris, prudence is key. “There is an element of narcissism to these groups. Everyone is talking about themselves, without manifesting much interest for the other. We must ask ourselves: to what end are we using this network? Is it to strengthen our bonds with others or to show off?”
In short, aren’t some of the messages on this “friendly” app occasionally ignored by its aficionados? “Possibly,” says Angelica, “as there are always some people who monopolize the discussion, bragging about themselves. They send pictures from their last vacations in Greece, or talk about how peachy their life is, how smart their kids are.”
This is not the only problem. There’s the excessive messaging by some and the quasi-total silence of others. Even worse, there are those who leave a group without a warning. There is no actual set of rules accepted by everyone. Each must use their common sense to communicate without offending others. Modesty, kindness, and reciprocity must be the key words for family groups. Betty is relieved to observe that her grandkids have the habit of calling her in person before writing a message to the whole family.
Stay close to your relatives outside WhatsApp
Speaking of the phone, we tend to pick it up less and less because WhatsApp lets us glean some information. “That’s the reason why I hate all these groups,” confesses Natasha. “I take time to call, because you never get the whole story over WhatsApp.” For his part, John admits that family group on the app allows him to clear his conscience: “I don’t need to phone because I know what each of my cousins is up to. It saves time!”
For Madame Basile, things are clear-cut. “These groups have their role to play, but they can never be enough. Because, people only talk about things that go well in their life and never about those that don’t or about how they really feel.” But that is precisely what sustains our relationships. “How can you know about the problems your cousin has if you don’t hear her voice and all she does is saturating the group with pictures of her cats?” she asks. “Don’t be a slave to this app, which is only one of the many ways to maintain a bond. Especially because it can provoke jealousy when the life the other leads seems so fun. This may tickle our sensibility and even our susceptibility!”
Betty always pays attention to this detail. When one of her grandkids is less active on the app than the others, she invites them to dinner to talk about what is actually going on in their life. “It’s a different way to build a relationship. I am totally aware that it may not be simple to discuss one’s life in these groups.” In fact, what can all those people without kids contribute to a group discussion? What about those who can’t share their pictures of exotic trips or the excitement of their graduation day? Among the “ostracized” on Whats App, Basile mentions senior citizens, the forgotten of the digital world. So, nothing beats a good old-fashioned phone call or a visit from time to time.