You Can Add Me to Your Group Chat but at Some Point, I’m Going to Mute It
We’re living in the age of group chats and really, how wonderful. I know you’ll read that as sarcasm, given the title of this piece but I genuinely mean it. How fortunate are we that in a matter of seconds we can communicate with a large number of people all at once by swiping our fingers over a touch screen in order to stay connected with those we love in these strange, difficult times?
Truly, modern technology is a wonder.
And yet. The group chat. Can we talk about it?
Because sure, in theory, it sounds great but in reality, I doubt there’s a smartphone owner out there who hasn’t at one time or another removed themselves from a chat or wished they’d never been added to it in the first place or put it on mute…indefinitely.
Full disclosure: I’m in a few group chats now and at any given time, I usually have half of them on permanent mute.
You may be thinking that’s because I’m antisocial or a terrible person but I genuinely don’t think so and I also believe (or at least, I seriously hope now that I’ve started writing this!) that I’m not alone.
So I’m here to state the case for everyone else out there who feels the way I do about the group chat.
Human beings are not supposed to live like this
Picture this: the early morning sun is streaming through your bedroom curtains and the sound of birdsong drifts through the open window, somewhere outside a car door slams jolting you from sleep. You prise open your eyelids and lift your phone from the bedside table to check the time and suddenly your work colleague is beside your bed shouting at you in all caps. “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?” She thrusts her phone in your face. Your brain hasn’t fully registered that you’re awake yet but before you know what’s happening, you find yourself watching a video entitled ‘funny cat compilation 17’.
“LOL!” She yells.
Meanwhile, another colleague (who you generally try to avoid) appears beside her. “Did you hear about Brian? That apprentice we had a few years ago, you know…” (You don’t know.) Undeterred, she pulls a sad face. “He died.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but doesn’t that scenario strike you as a little…bizarre? Kind of hellish, in fact?
And yet, that’s what it’s like sometimes when you’re added to a group chat and wake up to 147 notifications, most of which are seemingly unrelated pieces of information that you could have done without knowing.
This bizarre state of affairs seems to only apply to group chats specifically, rather than message conversations between two people. After all, how many one-to-one message chats do you have where the conversation flips from one topic to another without warning? Where you wake up to more messages than you can face reading?
In most messaging conversations that take place between two people, there’s an unspoken etiquette where one person waits for the other to reply before messaging again or before changing the topic. Obviously, there are exceptions- urgent questions or times when something just pops into your head. That’s very different to the group chat culture of anyone in the group messaging everyone else in the group with anything at all at any time of day or night regardless of what’s come before- and everyone else in the chat doing the same.
I can’t be the only one who finds it jarring to be sending laughing emojis to a funny meme and before I’ve even hit send, having to add ‘sorry to hear about your Gran @ angela, RIP’ can I?!
The weight of expectation
If it’s in the chat, the expectation is that you’ve read it therefore you know about it. The trouble is, if you’re in a fast-paced group chat (which they almost always are when they’ve got more than four people in them) you might pick up your phone after your dinner and find 50+ messages to read through.
I don’t generally invite people round to my house between 8 and 9 pm in the evening, do you know why? Yes, there’s the small matter of a global pandemic, but aside from that, I have children! And they’re still at an age where at the very least I have to send them for a shower and make sure they have clean school uniforms for the next day and get them to bed at a reasonable time.
If you came to my house unannounced on a weeknight unless you were in crisis, I wouldn’t have the time to sit and listen to a rant about your boss or watch an 8-minute video you found “hilarious” so the same is true on WhatsApp too.
Harsh? Possibly. But true, nonetheless.
Of course, the beauty of messaging rather than turning up at someone’s front door is that they can read it at a time that’s convenient to them so it’s not quite the same thing. But if you don’t read those 50+ messages immediately after dinner because it’s not convenient, then by the time you get the kids to bed and pour a glass of wine, there’ll probably be 80+ messages and if you have evening plans that don’t involve scrolling on your phone and you leave it to the morning, you could be waking up to 120 unread messages, at which point, if you’re anything like me you’d rather flush your phone down the toilet than deal with that at 6.30 am.
It’s all so overwhelming. The pace, the notifications and the expectation that you’re available 24/7 to read and respond accordingly.
The wood for the trees
The thing is, at this point you’re all thinking I’m a selfish misanthrope but if we’re friends, I do genuinely care about you!
I want to know about the things that are important to you. I want to hear if you’re having a good day, a bad day, if you have big news to share or even small news. I want to hear about your new boyfriend, your cat, your mystery rash (yes, really!) I want to chat about the things that are important to you.
But in a group chat, these things can easily be lost in and amongst the day-to-day banter, the memes, the screenshots and rows of emojis. Sometimes the really important stuff, the moments of true connection, get swallowed up between the lines.
That makes it really difficult to have the kind of ‘normal’ exchanges that I genuinely miss. You know, where you’d sit down with a friend over a brew and say “What’s new with you?” and they’d tell you.
If it’s all in the group chat, there’s an assumption that you already know what’s new, because it isn’t new anymore, it’s yesterday’s news and all there in black and white. But what if you don’t know? What if you missed it?
Group chats are pretty bad for anxiety
I have anxiety. I’m aware that’s my issue to deal with, not anyone else’s but a constantly pinging phone and endless notifications are no good for anyone and least of all, people living with anxiety.
Add to that, the feeling that you should constantly be available for social interaction because, after all, it’s not ‘real’ interaction, is it? And the fact that you have no idea what the next message might be about or when it will come through or if it will spiral into an hours-long back-and-forth conversation. Even typing all that makes me feel stressed!
The truth is, some days I can cope with it and other days, less so. When my anxiety is high, I naturally gravitate towards a slower pace of life with less interaction. The difficulty then being, that a ping from my phone could be a funny gif, a piece of bad news I can’t handle or something I genuinely need to respond to, like a message from my kids’ school, for example. And sure, I could go into my phone settings and ensure all my different conversations and contacts have different notification tones and volumes but I’m infinitely more likely just to mute any group chat that I don’t have the headspace for on that particular day.
I mean, I feel like this one’s obvious and aren’t we all? But honestly, most days, I’m kind of busy.
I work, I have kids, a partner, a dog, a home that isn’t self-cleaning as much as I wish it was. I also have hobbies that, like most people, I’d like to spend more time on. I have extended family, friends (both inside and outside of group chats!) I’m trying to eat well, exercise, keep up with the laundry and generally be a well-rounded person and DO ALL THE THINGS.
No matter how hard I try, at some point, something has to slide and when life gets hectic, reading and responding to every message in every group chat just isn’t going to happen.
It’s not you, it’s me
Maybe the problem is me. I’m an old-fashioned kind of gal at heart and I’d always choose an in-person chat one-on-one with a coffee and a biscuit (or two) over an endless, virtual catch-up.
I’m also an introvert with anxiety, so big meetings and noisy, multiple-person conversations or lively parties just aren’t my cup of tea and a group chat can sometimes be all those things mixed into one, only unlike a meeting or party, it never ends.
A final word before you all block me
Before everyone I’ve ever known deletes me from every group chat I’ve ever been invited to, I would like to say a final word here.
Group chats can have their uses. I admit that they’re ideal for organising things that involve multiple people, they’re a great way to update lots of people at once and not have to type the exact same thing over and over and they can be a fun way to keep in touch with people you wish you saw more often.
I don’t hate group chats, I just find them a lot. At times, too much. That’s why I find myself hitting mute every now and again. I don’t think that makes me a bad person and I certainly don’t think it makes anyone else that I’m in a group chat with a bad person either.
If we’re in a group chat together, please don’t think I’m seething every time you send a meme or a picture of your lunch but when this pandemic is over, if you want a real catch up- I take my coffee white, no sugar and I’m partial to a digestive biscuit. I honestly can’t wait to hear what’s new with you.