WHATZAPPED????

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As I hurriedly write this piece, we are into the 60th minute of a WhatsApp outage – the fifth of its kind, I hear, since the messenger tiptoed into our mindspace several years ago and completely colonised it, without us having realised the takeover. The outage was breaking news on mainstream visual media with channels belting out  hundred and one inconveniences that customers are being subjected to, without so much as an acknowledgement, leave aside an apology from Meta. They did finally acknowledge it and have put out assurances of a restoration – Thank God! It is as if world needs WhatsApp more than WhatsApp needs the world. The deep addiction to which all of us are subjected globally became apparent in under 30 minutes. TV anchors were screaming out of their screens – people cannot keep in touch, cannot exchange important information, cannot transfer money and cannot express their emotions through the latest emojis – how can this be allowed to happen in this day and age? The end of the ‘digital’ world is nigh…75000 tweets within the hour on this great cataclysm of this century. People have been ‘crippled’, it seems – doesn’t take much to cripple us nowadays, don’t you think?.

 

I do not know whether to laugh or cry. On second thoughts, I have decided – I will laugh and cry alternately. Laugh at the ridiculousness of our miserable lives which depend so much on technology and gadgets and cry at the consternation that has been generated at this outage, as if it is some great cosmic event. I do not think even the Russia-Ukraine conflict or the threat of nuclear weapons and dirty bombs would create a tenth of the interest that this outage has generated. Behind all the screaming and shouting, I wonder if it has really made any qualitative difference to our lives. If anything, it could only have made it better – an hour an a half or more of forced WhatsApp withdrawal. Some peace of mind, at last. But no – the addicts don’t seem to think so. Unacceptable, they say. WhatsApp is a commercial entity and they cannot have such a long outage – 90 minutes and counting…

 

Conspiracy theories are also doing the rounds. Is it an insider job? Are competitors behind this disruption? A cyber attack perhaps? Could be anything, really. In a digital world with intense competition, these are only to be expected. The angst among WhatsApp users and news channels is also aggravated by our increasingly reduced attention spans and the Internet-induced era of instant gratification. With instant responses and approvals, 90 minutes or more is eternity. In ninety minutes, there could be more than 90 multiplied by 2 billion (WhatsApp users) exchanges or transactions of different kinds – well, this hasn’t happened and I am none the worse for it. Of course, our new breed of social media commentators are having a field day, rattling out statistics of previous outages, time taken to restore them and the global fallout of such a catastrophe etc. Good luck to them and the longer WhatsApp remains down, the longer they remain on prime time.

 

Let me close with some personal experiences of not too long ago. There were day-long power cuts with very little visibility of when the ceiling fan would start turning again. Water supply and milk were rationed. Having a landline telephone was a luxury and commanded a handsome premium, notwithstanding the fact that there were more cross-connections and wrong numbers than properly connected calls. There was no Internet or Internet shopping and banks closed at 2 pm and there was no banking beyond banking hours – no NEFT, no RTGS, no credit cards, no Google Pay. There were no Big Baskets and Amazons – people stood in line outside ration stores to get their daily needs. Even as recently as the pandemic times, we did without schools, offices and parties for more than two years without a whimper. When our mindspace was relatively uncluttered, there was time – to be with friends, family, to sing, dance, get wet in the rain, trek into the mountains, go for picnics and drives – without the bondage of any electronic leash. Today, the world is not just on a leash but cannot do without one. It is the ultimate captivity.

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