WhatsApp Tribes: The Group Chats You Can’t Wait To Leave
Illustrations by Mr Pete Gamlen
WhatsApp? We’ll tell you WhatsApp. For users, free end-to-end encrypted messages and calls can come at a cost. Who among us hasn’t been pinged at an ungodly hour, accidentally sent a shopping list – or worse – to the wrong person or blinked and received 473 messages as a group chat has blown up? Then there’s mixing up the main group and the side chat (skull emoji). Our always-on reality means that our feed is often buried under a flurry of Gifs, stickers and voice notes. But will they notice if you mute the chat? Here are five groups that we’d really like to exit right now.
The reunion that never quite happens
You were so close in your college dorm, but now the group chat is largely dormant. Well, not entirely extinguished. One diligent member has everyone’s birthdays mapped out on a calendar and marks each with a cake emoji. This results in a trickle of messages, with even the laziest of the group chiming in with the odd “HBD”. Other than that, it’s not even tumbleweed Gifs. There was talk of “getting the band back together”, to celebrate an important anniversary – or was it when you all turned 30? Or 40? The self-appointed social secretary took it upon themselves to draw up a wish list of villas for seven, no nine… wait, six guests, with an extra bedroom and a sofabed just in case, but you couldn’t find a weekend that suited everyone. Now there’s another big date coming up – it’s almost five years, to the day, that Chris (the other one) last posted something. Has anyone got his new number?
The family entanglement
It begins with a fairly innocuous declaration: “Mum created the group ‘Family chat’”. Followed by a request to swap the sweater that you got Dad for Christmas for one in a different size. And colour. And, well, just a different sweater. Soon, the links start coming. At least, you assume, this will stem the flow of physical newspaper clippings, sent in the post – but then they said the same about emails when your workplace introduced Slack, then Trello, right? And yet you still get emails. It’s when the extended family – and those loosely defined as “auntie” – get invited that the group chat starts to collapse under its own weight. Content wavers between warnings of phishing scams and links to blatant phishing scams similar to those that you were just warned about. Your mum’s cousin wants to know why you’re still not married and why you never go to the place of worship of a designated religion and whether there is a correlation between the two. Perhaps the YouTube clip of what purports to be a BBC News report on imminent nuclear war with the label “Forwarded many times” is real. If so, it couldn’t come soon enough.
The bantz goes marching on
Dave’s bachelor party is only a few weeks away and the group chat has intensified. The initial outlay for the trip to Hvar – you had to Google it, then how to say it – was one thing. But then came the surging additional activities and costs. Someone called Big Al (every group has to have one) has started a pool for drinks and, by the sounds of it, is already drunk in a pool. Then there’s the time sunk into keeping up with all the messages, let alone deciphering them. A side chat with the few people you do know, including one acquaintance who acts as a human Rosetta Stone, is required to explain some of the in-jokes. A quick glance at the group info shows that there’s a rump of members who are keeping decidedly quiet, which might be the best course of action should some of the spicier remarks ever get out. Fingers crossed this much effort goes into the wedding itself.
The kindergarten class parents
It’s 11.30pm on a Sunday – do you know where your daughter’s cardigan is? “Kathy (Agatha’s mum)” clearly doesn’t. Caleb’s PE bag only has one shoe. Imogen brought home someone else’s water bottle. Alfie did something hilarious, or at least warranting several crying-laughing emojis, but on reflection seems to be fairly standard behaviour for a five-year-old boy. True, this chat comes into its own ahead of one of the 27 non-uniform days scattered at random across the academic year – at least someone is paying attention. And, sure, we all found Jessica’s misspelling of the name of the afterschool club teacher, Mr Denis, very amusing. But no one outside of his family needs to see Milo H’s self-portrait, which, if you’re being generous, resembles that famously botched Spanish fresco. At least, not at that hour. Just wait until they’re asking for volunteers for the trip to the local potato factory, then suddenly it all goes quiet.
The post-lockdown comedown
The “Guess the cheese” group has aged like a wheel of brie left out in the sun. Of course, it wasn’t always called that. It began life as the name of the street, before it segued into a series of Zoom quizzes, wine tastings and kitchen discos. It was your lifeline back when your only contact with your neighbours was when you all gathered on your doorsteps to clap for key workers. But as the world returned to a semblance of normality, “Guess the cheese” became the lingering legacy of that strange time. There’s nothing on there that’s incriminating as such, although questions could be asked as to whether the guidance was always followed to the letter. But, in hindsight, it’s just a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? That desperate public plea for mother dough or egg cartons for the crafting project you were working on that came to nothing, preserved like an insect trapped in amber. When the annoying couple at number 10 moved out, there was a palpable sense of elation. But it turns out that grumbling about them was what actually galvanised the group. And all that you really have in common is an area code.