$19 billion is a lot of money to pay for a country let a lone an app. An app that is not mainstream. An app that has as much competition as any. Google searching “WhatsApp’s purpose” will yield some funny results. Certainly not what I was expecting. Not exactly a murderer’s row of technology literature heavyweights weighing in. There are as many obscure blog posts as weighing in from the likes of CNET and The Verge. What is WhatsApp’s purpose?
- A way to communicate internationally without the traditional international communication charges
- Emojis! Emojis! Emojis!
- The result of electronic cross breeding between instant messanger services and social media
- The pinnacle means of mediated by communication for generations of children raised on either mediated communication or awkwardness
WhatsApp offers everything offered by Facebook, Instagram, Vine, KIK, and Snapchat offer in one package. You can rehearse and revise audio, video, text, emoji, and all of the above within one interaction. Because, why put yourself on the line in the face of the limit of your comfort zone and knowing of what to do, when you can simple trade audio clips and modified smiley faces instead of having an eye contact to eye contact conversation.
I have talked to men and women, boys and girls, young and old about WhatsApp. The only people who have used it have used it to avoid international charges while on vacation. People in the US on work visas told me they used it to communicate to family back home, also to avoid international charges.
But then I talked to a couple of high schoolers who basically only used WhatsApp to communicate with everyone they weren’t related to. I asked them the following questions;
- why don’t you just text?
- doesn’t data cost more than calls and texts?
- why don’t you use the litany of other messenger services?
I learned several things by asking these questions.
- It is important to talk to young people
- Parents could control their children by the mere threat of taking away internet use
- People really are social creatures
- There’s a lot of free WIFI in white America
- An increasing number of people don’t know how to communicate without it being mediated by technology or mind altering substances.
The value is in that data used is just data used. It isn’t text messages that their parents could look up. The vast supply of emojis could replace words, sentences, and entire sentiments. Emojis could equal code, for, anything. That is very valuable to younger generations who only know mediated communication. They’re brave only while drunk, stoned, rolling, or tripping or all of the above all before the age of 21. Unable to be to make eye contact without threat of punishment. Unable to focus without pills.
The entire social network experience condensed into an instant messaging chat window. The ability to practice and edit every piece of communication that goes out. Why have a conversation when you can instantly exchange audio clips? Why talk about hooking up or drinking while under age when you can send one of a thousand smiley face variations that only you and the other person know the meaning of for this interaction? Why ever use Facebook again when your parents, grandparents, employers, and exes are looking on? With WhatsApp all the stuff that made social networks fun five years ago are born again, the only people invited to the party are the people you personally send invites to turn the one on one exchange into a group chat.
There is of course, nothing wrong with wanting a completely personalized social network experience fused with instant messaging. There is nothing wrong with teens using emojis to get high and get laid since teens have been getting high and getting laid in secret using code since the roaring twenties. I worry about the need for mediated communication. The need to rehearse and edit a simple exchange of thoughts and desires. Not a preference to have communication done that way, but not knowing how to communicate competently any other way.
The inequality gap is being matched by a social competence gap. A widening gap of shyness in contact with people outside of one’s childhood collective, and experiences outside of one’s comfort zone aren’t even being seen, because more and more people are spending their lives looking down at their smart phone(s). The beautiful people of course do fine for themselves since they are constantly reminded how genetically superior they are. The rich folk are reminded they have been bred for success and can not just communicate but dictate to anyone and everyone by proxy to their parents’ bank accounts. But those in the middle or lower are looking at screens and not interacting with the physical, unless they’re riding the Molly go round. The rest use thin veils of sarcasm, impatience, and boredom to mask the fear beaming out of their eyes and creating stink lines around their entire being. A fear of not know who they are, how to act, or what they want without regurgitation of media.
Everything they know comes from a screen. Their ideas of style and substance. Photoshop and Pro Tools. Everything they experience is slickly produced at corporate level, so why wouldn’t their communications be the same way? There’s purpose and value in WhatsApp, it’s just that neither have matured or gone mainstream yet, much like the audience they are coveting. For demographics raised on the paradigm of always being able to hit backspace or restart, WhatsApp may just be the future of communication.