WhatsApp Inc. released a new update for the app earlier this month and, right off the bat, threw a spanner in the works as regards the nature of virtual human connections as we know it.
Some of the notable new features bundled with the new update include the originally grey delivery ticks which now turn blue to indicate when a message was read (you can check this when you press and hold the message to reveal the info) and, my favourite, the ability to add captions to images while you send them.
Basically, this new update means that WhatsApp is now pretty much like BBM in the privacy – or lack of it – department and still manages to edge BBM in coolness.
I was originally skeptical about updating my WhatsApp, despite the barrage of notifications from the Playstore, because I still wanted to be able to retain my peace of mind when it comes to others knowing if I was flat out ignoring their messages or not. I mean, anyone with enough sense knows when they’re being ignored, but having a readily available technology that eliminates the benefit of the doubt is sinister to the established social construct as we know it.
When Facebook acquired WhatsApp a few months ago I’d anticipated some tweaks to the privacy settings to happen sooner or later, given Zuckerberg’s proclivity to “make the world a more open place.” That’s the ideology that he runs Facebook with and it’s only natural that it’ll transcend to WhatsApp eventually.
What does this mean for virtual relationships though? Well, for one, it’ll test, even further, Zuckerberg’s belief that the more open we are the better our relationships are going to be. But I think things will get worse before [if] they get better.
For many people, a huge chunk of the relationship between them and their significant other(s) happens virtually – in a bid to bridge the distance barrier. For this set of people, something as innocuous as a delivered/read notification on a message can hold profound meaning. In a culture obsessed with instant replies to messages, barring every circumstance, any delayed response to a message the sender already suspects has been delivered evokes all manner of neurotic sentiments and can foster trust issues. That’s why BBM kind of always played second fiddle to WhatsApp in that regard until now.
Even with this new update that essentially makes WhatsApp like BBM, I still think WhatsApp is cooler. Like I wrote on a blog post last year when BBM came to Android, file transfers are still better on WhatsApp and the group chat experience is richer there too.
I get dozens of messages every day on WhatsApp (I’m in a number of group chats as well) and, sometimes, the barrage can be unnerving. That’s why I was reluctant to update the app and alter the original privacy set up. Because one could choose to reply to messages at a later time and retain their peace of mind.
This new detail imports the psychological blackmail (previously associated with BBM) to instantly respond to a message to WhatsApp. Interestingly though, after finally updating the app this morning, I feel that my peace of mind around the new privacy set up won’t necessarily budge. I’ll still respond to messages as soon as I can or as quickly as I deem fit – and I think most people would do the same. But these are early days yet. With other updates to come in the future, we’ll find out if Zuckerberg’s belief in the linear relationship between openness in human connections and trust will pan out as we keep pushing the boundaries on privacy with every upgrade.