Recently after a bad day, I did what I did after several bad days and left a voice note on WhatsApp. Almost immediately, friends scattered across the country swung into action, offering sympathy and advice.
We created our WhatsApp group at the start of the pandemic and almost unnoticed it became a psychological lifeline. Our 18-month-old conversations change at a pace between silly jokes and heart-to-heart and TV recommendations and life advice that should be unnatural but the most natural thing in the world, that can mimic the rhythm of a chat. If we were able to meet in person.
“I’m so glad you said that… I feel the same way, and I didn’t know it was just me,” replied a friend when I told them how much group chats meant to me. It almost feels embarrassing to confess — especially when so many people are trying to turn off their phones and “unplug” from social media sites that mostly make us feel bad.
Linda Kaye, a psychology reader at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, was not surprised when I told her this story. She has a pandemic WhatsApp group with current and former colleagues called “Isolation Shmisolation”, and has researched the role group messaging can play in providing emotional support. He observed that what separates WhatsApp from social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter is that it mostly brings together existing groups of friends or relatives, giving them another channel for communication and an easy and low-cost way to grow those relationships. method provides.
In 2019, he co-authored a paper for International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction It surveyed 200 WhatsApp users who spent an average of about an hour a day on the app. She found that spending more time there made people feel more connected with their WhatsApp friends, leading to increased well-being and self-esteem, and they felt less lonely and more socially competent. The group chat function can foster a sense of shared identity, which also promotes well-being. In short, he argued that WhatsApp is good for your health.
WhatsApp’s group chat function can be important. Janice McCabe, an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, has studied friendship networks among university students and found that people tend to fall into one of three categories: “tight-knits,” those who have a densely woven friendship group. where almost all friends are getting to know each other; “compartmentalizers”, who were part of two to four small, discrete friendship groups; and “samples”, which collected different friends from different places. Those taking the sample were most likely to experience loneliness and a lack of social connection. I wondered if, in a pandemic that has made it difficult to meet in groups – forcing us to behave like “samples” – WhatsApp group chats can help us reap the benefits of feeling part of a network. could. So that, virtually at least, we can act as a “tight-knit” or “compartmentalizer”.
When we talked on Zoom, McCabe thought I was “something to do”. Over the summer, she was running with people she first interviewed in 2016 when they were students in New Hampshire, discovering how graduation and a pandemic had reshaped their friendship groups. She found that not everyone’s friendships changed as much as one might expect, and some reported that their social networks had shrunk, while the remaining friendships became more intense and more personal.
“We often have a stereotype that group chats on something like WhatsApp will be superficial, and certainly some conversations go that way,” McCabe said. But in her interviews, she was amazed at how often people were using group chats to talk about the difficult things they were going through, and to seek emotional support. When this support comes from a group, it can feel more impactful than just meeting in person. “you can feel covered In love and support,” she explained.
One interviewer, a mature student in her fifties, told McCabe that she limited herself to eight to ten close friends because this was the largest number of friendships she could “nurture” daily. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of friends to nurture on a daily basis’, but when I talked to her, I realized she was capable of doing this through group chats.” Too often, McCabe observed, we focus our efforts on making new friends and neglect the importance of nurturing our already existing relationships. WhatsApp provides a way to maintain and promote friendship.
Of course, not every WhatsApp group works this way. Some work, school, or neighborhood-related groups are geared more toward sharing practical information than emotional support (and many are not particularly effective at that). Some groups become boring, or they may become repressively hyperactive, or faint as the group dynamics are turned off. But what a powerful thing it was, when everything was shut down and the world seemed new awful, to be able to type an urgent message — or even “How are you all?” – Know more in your phone that a close but geographically dispersed gang of people you love deeply will see and respond to your message.