Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 2 March 2016

WhatsApp Just Made It Easier To See Who\'s Ignoring You

WhatsApp Just Made It Easier To See Who's Ignoring You

The Debrief: A new WhatsApp update has made it even easier to check those blue ticks and see who's read your message but not replied. Here's some advice from Joan Didion on how to deal.

Stop what you're doing. Go to your calm place and picture a time before ‘read receipt’ time stamps? Those pesky little signs which let you know whether or not somebody has read your text, email, Facebook message or WhatsApp.

A time when you didn’t check to see whether your message had been delivered, opened and digested. When you simply fired it off and read the reply when it came in. The politics of the three typing dot bubble on iMessage and the last seen feature and blue ticks on WhatsApp are, without doubt, an existential crisis inducing minefield.

That's better isn't it?

How many relationships do you think have ended because of the ‘Last Seen’ feature on WhatsApp? How many arguments have been started? How much paranoia fuelled?WhatsApp is perhaps the worst mode of modern communication. On it, we measure how effective our correspondence has been and how much those we communicate value what we have said by the direct correlation between the time that our message was opened, when the recipient was ‘last seen’ and how long it took them to reply to us. Gone are the days when, trusty Nokia 3310 in hand, you could say to yourself ‘maybe they just never got it…’


For some reason, the people over at WhatsApp have decided to make it even easier for us to check up on each other. They’ve added a new feature which allows people to check whether people have read their messages or not, aka whether their mates/significant others are ignoring them or not.

The update means that you can see blue and grey ticks on your homepage, without having to click into the individual conversations. You can view all the ticks for all of your various correspondence all at once.

Hours can be spent agonising over it. ‘Why hasn’t he/she replied? They’ve read my message!!! They’re online!!!’

Psychologist Dr Max Blumberg points out that today everything is a commodity, including our time. He says ‘when someone doesn’t reply to you it suggests that you are not particularly high on their list of priorities’, the implication is that other stuff is more important than you and, of course, that’s not a good feeling. However, he points out, the likelihood is that the person not replying to you has a long list of other things that they’re trying to get done.

While it can be useful to know whether or not your message has been received or read by the person you’re trying to get hold of, is it really healthy to know that people who aren’t replying to you are online? That they’ve read your message and not responded? Of course, we all think the worst – we assume people who don’t reply automatically don’t think we’re important, don’t want to talk to us or that we’ve done something wrong, when the reality is that they’re probably just tied up with…you know…their job or life. We don’t need to be in touch with each other 24/7. 

By the same token we feel guilty when we don’t reply to messages, we judge ourselves based on our response times.

Back in 1961 Joan Didion wrote an essay called ‘On Self Respect’. This, of course, was long before the Internet age, it predated mobile technology and all the trappings of digital life that came before it. Her essay was, decidedly, analogue.

In it she wrote about the concept of self respect, how important it is to our sanity and suggested how a person might hold onto it in the face of all the demands placed upon them by modern (late C20th) life, one of which was correspondence.

‘It is the phenomenon sometimes called alienation from self’ Didion wrote with reference to the tyranny of modern communication, ‘in its advanced stages we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game.’ It’s almost as though she was describing the feeling of being in a group WhatsApp with multiple members.

Of unanswered correspondence she went on to say ‘every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves, drains the will, and the spectre of something as small as an unanswered letter arouses such disproportionate guilt that one’s sanity becomes an object of speculation among one’s acquaintances.’ Was she referring to the discussion that happens when one person never responds to the group thread, fails to contribute any LOLZ gifs for over a week or goes totally off the grid for a bit?

What was Joan’s advice for dealing with the weight of communication, those unanswered messages you know you should have replied to? Well, she said, ‘to assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.’

There you have it. Joan said we should all free ourselves from the weight of expectations, from the guilt you get when you know you should have replied to someone and you simply haven’t had time. We should also stop looking at those two ticks which let us know whether or not somebody has read our message, we should free ourselves from the tyranny of waiting for responses and, also, from feeling as though we have to respond immediately all the time. People will reply when they can.

As Dr Blumberg points out human beings basically have ‘old brains which are trying to cope with new technology’, we weren’t designed to cope with the constant communication and connection that we now have, quite literally, at our fingertips. ‘You can see the effects of this’, he says, ‘in things like the fact that we’re all being told that we should try to meditate more etc.’


He also says that more successful people ‘find it easier to disconnect and to stop “following” the crowd, to stop caring about what the crowd thinks. Their ability to disconnect and therefore, to stop following, gives them the potential to lead.’

So, maybe we should all take a leaf out of Joan’s book. Stop paying attention to the ticks, don’t check whether someone has been online since they read your message.

Free yourself from the tyranny of those two ticks, from the anxiety caused by seeing that someone is ‘online’ or ‘typing’. Texting is supposed to bring us closer together, not drive us apart.

Click on WhatsApp right now, go to Settings, then Account, click on Privacy and change your ‘Last Seen’ to ‘Nobody’. This means that, not only will nobody know when you were last online, you won’t see when other people last logged on.

That's it, go on. Get free. 

Like this? You might also be interested in:

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

Tags: Tech