Give yourself a break and unplug from chat groups

WHEN my smartphone vibrates to alert me that I have been added to yet another WhatsApp chat group (51 and counting), I can almost hear my cellphone groan in protest.

I don’t know how much longer my poor mobile phone can endure the growing number of social media chat groups piling up on its memory banks before it starts shutting down.

With so many chat groups, I cannot afford not to check my cellphone frequently. Otherwise there will be a huge number of unread messages. The highest number of unread WhatsApp and Telegram messages combined that I have recorded so far numbered more than 1,000. I kid you not!

As journalists, and based in Putrajaya, we belong to numerous WhatsApp chat groups created by the ministries located in the federal administrative capital.

We also have chat groups with the police and the Fire and Rescue Department based in the different districts, not forgetting the local authorities. On top of that, we also have several WhatsApp chat groups with our bosses. Easily, 90 per cent of my WhatsApp and 100 per cent of my Telegram chat groups are work-related.

And now that my son has enrolled in Primary One, my husband and I have been added into his class’s WhatsApp group. I count my blessings as his teachers have not created WhatsApp groups according to subjects. Most of us also belong to at least one alumni WhatsApp group for primary, secondary school to university level.

This is why I cannot switch off the silent mode on my cellphone. Otherwise, throughout the day, it would be beeping, alerting me of incoming messages as if it is on steroids. For the same reason, it is normal for me to miss calls since my mobile phone is permanently on silent mode. To all my callers, I apologise for all the missed calls you are likely to experience.

Indeed many of us are aware that Malaysians are active social media users, but to what extent? Brace yourself for some shocking details. The Digital News Report 2017 has crowned Malaysians as the world’s largest users of WhatsApp at 51 per cent. The same report also revealed that Facebook and YouTube are also popular among Malaysians, with 58 per cent and 26 per cent of users respectively, and WeChat and Instagram with 13 per cent.

TNS Global reported similar findings, citing Malaysians as being the largest group of WhatsApp users, at 77 per cent, and Facebook Messenger at 41 per cent.

WhatsApp became a household brand when the instant messaging platform reached 1.5 billion users worldwide in January last year. It is the favourite choice for many due to its attractive features, including simplicity, ease and speed in communicating as well as information sharing, and effective interfaces as every post can be shared by just pressing a button.

After foraging the Internet, I stumbled onto some outdated, but interesting facts. It requires us to travel four years back. As of January 2015, 30 billion messages were sent and received on WhatsApp daily. Every day, over 200 million voice notes were shared and more than 700 million pictures were posted on WhatsApp. Fast forward to 2019, and I would bet my last ringgit that the number is astronomically higher now. After picking up my jaw from the floor, one cannot deny the many advantages that WhatsApp offers. But, they come with a price.

As a working mother saddled with a crazy number of chat groups, I do experience some level of social media burnout. By the end of the day, I am too tired to join in any of the chat threads in any of the groups. Why? Simple, I just don’t know where to start. I would rather PM (personal message) or DM (direct message) those on my contacts’ list.

Copius amount of academic research has been conducted on the WhatsApp phenomena.

One of the articles, titled “WhatsApp addiction and Borderline personality disorder: A new therapeutic challenge”, published by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, stated that excessive use of WhatsApp causes users to lose control. It seriously interferes in everyday life and makes the user dependent on WhatsApp. As a result, one develops a borderline personality disorder characterised by a feeling of emptiness, boredom, unstable self-image and increased addiction to WhatsApp.

The University of Basel in Switzerland has put 300 students under the microscope, studying how WhatsApp affects sleep: Poor sleep results in type 2 diabetes, depression, eating disorders and others.

WhatsApp or any social media addiction can also cause physical discomfort such as carpal tunnel syndrome (pain and numbness in hands and wrists), back and neck aches, severe headaches and pronounced weight gain or loss.

The Guardian has reported of a 34-year-old woman in Granada who spent at least six hours holding her cellphone and complained of sore wrists the next day. She was diagnosed with “WhatsAppitis” named after the popular WhatsApp after her doctor had ruled out carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve damage.

Incessant use of smartphones to check social media can also be bad for bones and joints. Tilting the head forward for a prolonged period forces the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons to strain, which may lead to text-neck.

Taking the cue from this, I had better stop now to rest my fingers, neck and back because I am using my mobile phone to compile this article. I seriously do not want to suffer from WhatsAppitis or text-neck.

Therefore, don’t be afraid, every now and then, to unplug people. We all need to take a step back and smell the roses!

The writer, who has more than 20 years in journalism, has a masters in Counselling Psychology.