“Get on WhatsApp!” they told me. “It’s FREE!” they said. So I caved. Not one to miss out on a freebie I headed down to the nearest Vodacom shop to connect my BlackBerry to the internet for R59 a month to get WhatsApp for “free”.
BIS the shop girl called it. You’re damn right it’s BS, I wanted to say. How is it free when I’m paying for internet anyways? Why can’t we all just send emails? That’s also free.
But I held my tongue. The shop girl looked like someone who likes WhatsApp and people who like WhatsApp love WhatsApp. In her best “what’s up with this guy” tone she told me to take out the battery, replace it and wait an hour for WhatsApp to register.
An hour later the WhatsApp logo appeared on my resuscitated and fully connected BlackBerry. I clicked on it. It took me to my contacts now featuring full colour avatars.
Jenny (Hairdresser) was there pictured with her two kids. Adrienne (Yoga) was there paragliding with her boyfriend. Dr Painter (Head of Psychology) had a shih tzu on his lap. In a matter of seconds I glimpsed the personal lives of people I went out of my way not to know.
Tentatively I scrolled down to someone I actually knew and typed my first WhatsApp. “Hi, I’m on,” it read. Simple. Short. I hit send and saw the regmerkie get another stripe taking it to mean the recipient, Max, got the message. “Max is typing … ” appeared at the top of the screen. “Yay! Welcome!” came the reply. Max likes WhatsApp.
I started typing my reply fully aware that “Hansie is typing … “ is showing on the other end. I hit a snag and had to re-type a word. My heart rate shot up. She’s probably wondering what’s taking so long. I mean, how long does it take to reply to “Welcome”? She doesn’t need a life story get it done, man!
After 10 seconds manhandling the BlackBerry keyboard I made a snap decision to go with thanx instead of thanks (seemed appropriate) and hit send. Max started typing again. In a flash the reply came accompanied by the line “Last seen today at 12.45″. That sounded ominous. I wasn’t sure if I should continue the conversation or call the police. I sent my second WhatsApp (“Are you OK?”). I got a reply. I exhaled.
A little shaken up by the experience I put the Blackberry away and got on with my life. Twenty minutes later the device summoned me. Another WhatsApp came in. I clicked through and found myself inside a WhatsApp group.
I felt like Tom Hanks dropped on a beach in Normandy where conversation had escalated well beyond the norm. Speech bubbles were flying all over the place. Sentences missing vital limbs were sent back and forth passing off as communication. At one point a meme drifted across the screen. It was chaos.
A group member called Lennie said she was leaving. I followed her and kept going all the way to my BlackBerry’s control panel where I disabled WhatsApp taking me back to Cyber-Siberia — a peaceful stretch of land free from speech bubbles where no one can reach me. In a day my WhatsApping days were over.
(I would just like to point out that I’m still available on SMS. SMS is a vintage messaging service, a lot like WhatsApp, just more mature. We like to spell right on SMS and take breaths between messages.)