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How WhatsApp is ruining relationships

Everyone uses WhatsApp.  It has a staggering number of users — over 1 billion worldwide as of February 2016, as per this report. From a psychologist’s point of view, the success of any medium is solely dependent on its ability to provide instant gratification on various levels.

What is instant gratification, you ask?

We like feedback, particularly, the ones that come immediately and make us feel better. The proliferation of fast food joints, instant messaging services, food-on-demand services, taxi hailing services are a case in point. Making money out of people’s need for instant gratification aided by the power of Internet has become a common phenomenon.

It’s basically getting things when we want it.

You message, get a reply, a feedback immediately. It’s free, easy to use, to access and helpful in sharing information quickly. That’s about everything that one looks for in a messaging app. But over a period of time, we get used to the instant feedback and replies. And, after a point, it becomes imperative for both the parties involved in the conversation to keep up the same pace in replying — or give each other the same kind of instant gratification.

Encourages instant gratification

WhatsApp offers various means to disseminate information — texts, audio, video, emojis, emoticons, documents (please tell me if there are more features). Such variety allows the user of the app to greatly expand their range and depth of conversations.

And, add to that the ability to segregate conversations in terms of groups, it becomes impossible not to reply or engage the other party. Groups sometimes have so many people that you always run the risk of being getting into the bad books of many. One late reply or miss and the group, which hasn’t received the feedback, becomes unsettled.

Audio and video clips can provide a lot of information quickly. They provide the users with the ability to give bigger positive reinforcements instantly. And, the more number of such reinforcements, the more addicted you get to it. Here’s a small chart to help you understand how quantity of information plays a role in instant gratification:

Type Quantity of information
Text Medium
Audio Medium
Video High
Documents High

Table shows us importance of ‘high quantity, less-time’ type kind of gratification. Video-streaming service YouTube is a prime example of that. It has made available your favourite songs and videos 24/7 and at a click of a button.

How WhatsApp affects relationships

It is clear to us now that the quality of our relationships — personal and professional — are bound to take a hit if we don’t keep our end of the transaction happening. I mean, if we don’t give instant gratification to the other party in the conversation, then it is bound to serve as a negative reinforcement.

Over a period of time, any relationship will workout an ‘ acceptable time to reply’. If you take a longer time to reply, any more than the accepted waiting time, is detrimental to the relationship. It clicks because it is ‘instant messaging’ and not just messaging.

No replies or late replies serve as negative reinforcements — which are actions that drastically reduces the chances of the other person repeating an action. In this case, messaging.

Constant negative reinforcements, like no reply or late replies, are likely to manifest as anxiety, guilt, pressure, embarrassment, suspicion and confusion.

Next time you see those blue ticks next to your messages and the reply doesn’t come, do this. Take a paper and write down how you feel.

It is likely to be one or many among the six we’ve mentioned.

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