My mother became addicted to WhatsApp when her mother passed away inside winter of 2013. She used the idea, she said, to “fill up a vacuum,” numbing her grief with the mindless banter of a handful of WhatsApp groups. In in which endless stream of forwards she sent as well as also received — the memes, the banal humor, the viral videos, the “Great Morning!” GIFs, as well as also the hoaxes — my mother found solace.
the idea didn’t take long for her early interest in WhatsApp to turn into obsession. She rekindled dusty relationships as well as also joined at least a dozen groups, including a family group, a group for work colleagues, a group for school friends, a group for organic farmers, as well as also another for environmentalists. Soon, my mother was spending half a dozen hours each day glued to her dinky Android phone, blasting her WhatsApp groups with forwards, as well as also watching almost every GIF as well as also video she received.
Many of these forwards ended up in my WhatsApp too. Sometimes, I got them twice because there were some groups we had in common. At first, I skimmed through, replying which has a quick 🙂 . although their volume increased so rapidly in which I was soon forced to stop replying entirely — there were simply too many. A few months later, my father called. “Your mother can be sulking,” he said. “You haven’t been reading or replying to her WhatsApp forwards.” I was taken aback. Mom as well as also I had been talking at least a couple of times a week on the phone. Still, she perceived me ignoring her on WhatsApp as a sort of personal affront.
“I’m emotionally invested in WhatsApp,” Mom explained when I called her to apologize. “as well as also I was hurt because you ignored me there.”
WhatsApp can be today an inextricable part of India’s culture. The app has more than 0 million users inside country, as well as also the idea’s nearly as large as Facebook’s Indian user base itself. as well as also while the idea’s widely used by millennials, the idea’s genuinely older Indians — people like my mother, her friends, as well as also extended family — who’ve embraced the idea with striking passion as well as also sincerity.
“To my parents, WhatsApp isn’t just an instant messenger,” said Devang Pathak, a 25-year-old writer by Mumbai. “the idea’s an entire social network. the idea’s where they catch up with family as well as also friends, the idea’s where they get their news, as well as also the idea’s where they watch a ton of videos. They use the idea so much the idea scares me.”
Digitally savvy millennials in India post Stories on Instagram, share memes on Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, keep up on Twitter, as well as also chat with each additional on Facebook Messenger. although older Indians have incorporated the most compelling features of these platforms right into WhatsApp. Vacation pictures don’t go on Facebook or Instagram, videos don’t go on YouTube, as well as also jokes as well as also wisecracks don’t go on Twitter. For older Indians, WhatsApp can be the ultimate social network.
“Honestly, Facebook can be a little complex for me,” said my mother. “as well as also the idea’s not a place where I can reach everyone I care about at once like I can do in a WhatsApp group. as well as also the idea’s also not, well, private.”
An aunt, who can be in her late sixties as well as also who began using WhatsApp about six months ago, can be today a notorious serial forwarder. although she likes the idea for additional reasons as well. “the idea’s my music player,” she said. “People I know send me so many music clips on WhatsApp as well as also I don’t know how to play music on my phone.”
“My generation didn’t genuinely have a lot of contact with people outside our immediate social circles for decades,” said another aunt in her mid-fifties. “I got hooked on WhatsApp because the idea was fun to see how friends who I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years looked.”
Unlike some of India’s urban as well as also affluent millennials who grew up with desktops as well as also the internet, most older Indians largely leapfrogged desktops as well as also went straight to smartphones as their primary computing devices over the past decade or so.
“They are not digital natives like us,” said Shobha S V, a 33-year-old media professional based in Delhi. “So there’s still in which childlike wonder about technology.”
Jayman Pandya, a 32-year-old UX designer based in Mumbai who can be currently struggling to get his 60-year-old father to cut down on his WhatsApp use, said he thinks older Indians are hooked because WhatsApp can be their first taste of being social on the internet. “My father refuses to drive these days because he needs to look into his phone all the time,” Pandya said.
Plunging into WhatsApp’s world of GIFs, videos, as well as also messaging has both liberated as well as also enabled older Indians. although there’s something of a learning curve, particularly when the idea comes to digital etiquette. Emboldened by WhatsApp’s simplistic interface as well as also unshackled by the limitations of SMS, many older Indians send dozens of forwards to their WhatsApp groups every single day — as well as also some young Indians say the idea’s getting on their nerves.
“Using WhatsApp with my family can be no longer about using the idea to have conversations,” said one such person who declined to be named. “the idea’s just about wading through an endless stream of forwards. I talk to my parents on the phone.”
When I tweeted, “Are you a young person pissed at how many forwards your parents send on WhatsApp?”, young Indians flooded my mentions as well as also Direct Messages.
“The constant pinging on my phone can be genuinely annoying,” said Shobha. “Remember how we used to forward email chains back inside day? in which can be their edition of the idea.”
Rohan Deshpande, 22, works inside hospitality industry in Chennai. He said the problem with older relatives who use WhatsApp can be in which they don’t genuinely understand the concept of spam. “I get the idea because I’ve grown up with the internet. They haven’t,” he said.
When confronted about their WhatsApp use, older Indians seem unruffled. “I share because I feel like the idea’s the best way to tell people how I feel or think about something,” said my mother. “I share because the idea helps me express myself.”
“My job can be to forward Great content,” said a 62-year-old grandfather of two based in Bangalore who didn’t want to be named. “the idea’s OK if you don’t respond or reply.”
What constitutes “Great content” can be, of course, subjective. WhatsApp groups in India are rife with jokes, sexist humor, as well as also viral videos, although hoaxes as well as also misinformation forwarded through the app have also become an engine for India’s own fake news crisis. Last week, an older relative forwarded me a false conspiracy theory claiming Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, as well as also Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, joined forces to shore up India’s plummeting GDP. as well as also a few days ago, my father sent a helpful forward in which advised me to massage my belly button with coconut oil to improve my eyesight. When asked about in which, multiple Indians I spoke to had a standard answer: “the idea’s true, I saw the idea on WhatsApp.”
“I think older people trust the credibility of news as well as also published information more than younger people in general,” said Shammas Oliyath, the Bangalore-based co-founder of Check4Spam, a website in which focuses on busting viral hoaxes as well as also urban myths spread primarily through WhatsApp in India. “I think they’re used to putting in a certain amount of trust in old media, as well as also in which sort of carries on to brand new media too. as well as also they’re also more unfamiliar with things like photo as well as also video editing software, as well as also concepts like clickbait.”
Shashwat Mohanty, a 20-year-old journalist by Mumbai, was so frustrated by fake forwards in his family’s WhatsApp group in which he designed a newspaper front-page full of bogus headlines to share with the group. “They totally believed everything!” he said. “I’m actually worried.”
Anagha Pathak, a 51-year-old academic by Pune, said she’s become more conscious about forwarding things on WhatsApp if she suspects they’re not accurate or factual. “My primary reason to forward things was to alert people I care about or warn them about something, as well as also unfortunately, a lot of those things ended up being hoaxes.”
in which can be precisely why experts think fake news spreads easily through WhatsApp. “WhatsApp can be a very intimate form of communication, as well as also if you receive information in which leads you to believe you’re at danger … you probably balance the pros as well as also cons of sharing the idea in your head,” Kate Wilkinson, senior researcher at fact-checking organization Africa Check, told Poynter earlier in which year. “If there’s a chance someone could be hurt, I should probably pass the idea on.”
Pathak still sends forwards, although she today types a caveat at the end of each one: “Forwarded as received.”
Others, like Jayasree Mukkilmaruthur, a lawyer by Delhi in her late sixties, say in which the problem of fake news as well as also misinformation spreading through WhatsApp forwards can be so widespread in which they don’t think anyone can stop the idea. “[Even if I stop sending forwards,] I can’t control the idea; I can’t stop people by sending them,” she said. “I genuinely don’t think my opinion here matters in which much.” (“I couldn’t disagree more, of course,” said Durga Sengupta, her 27-year-old daughter.)
“News was news when our parents were growing up,” said Deshpande. “The concept of content everywhere didn’t exist for them, as well as also I don’t think they can fathom in which anybody has the time or will to create misinformation or fake news just in order in which they can share the idea.”
Above all, older Indians have embraced the app for the same reasons in which young people around the entire world are hooked to additional social networks: for validation via instant feedback, as well as also a sense of community of a more intimate sort than in which found on Twitter as well as also Facebook.
“I won an award at work last month as well as also I didn’t want to blow my own trumpet on Facebook,” said a fifty-something aunt who declined to be named. “although I put the idea in my WhatsApp family group because in which’s the only circle of people I care about telling the idea to anyway.”
in which’s actually not very different by why millennials share on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, as well as also Snapchat. We curate our identities through the links, videos, GIFs, as well as also pictures we share on the half a dozen platforms we frequent, while older people just do the idea all in one particular place. We’re as likely to overuse as well as also overshare on social media as older people — even Facebook has warned about the dangers of passively scrolling through your News Feed for hours every day. although we consider our social media addiction as normal, even trendy, while perceiving theirs as a bewildering annoyance.
There are signs in which things could be changing, however. Pathak, the academic by Pune, said she’s had conversations with her children, both in their early twenties, about sharing responsibly on WhatsApp as well as also cutting back on the time she spends on the idea. “We had definitely reached in which point,” she said. “They were not happy.”
as well as also a few months ago, Mom as well as also I had a conversation on the phone. “I think you use WhatsApp too much,” I said. “I know,” she said. “I am addicted. I am sorry.” The forwards didn’t stop, although gradually, they reduced to a trickle. A few days ago, she sent me some selfies wearing a stunning blue sari. as well as also last week, she pinged me on WhatsApp just because. We spoke about how her day was, as well as also what she ate for lunch. the idea was beautiful. ●