What’s Wrong with WhatsApp

Lessons from the Future Past | Part 1

It was 1983.

This is an era where ‘personal computer’ is a rare term, nascent at best. It was also the time when young Steve Jobs, just a year before the introduction of the original Macintosh, delivered a rare piece of technology prophecy. In the International Design Conference with an amazingly fitting theme ‘The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be’, that vibrant 27 year-old explained about this new upcoming machine with the power of electron as its piston.

Steve Jobs as you have (likely) never seen before.

Upon finishing his historical review of several media transitions, he then talked about a ‘computer program’ (also another rare term then) called — Hammurabi.

It is a computer game, played by 7 year old kids. Players are expected to build a town, with a certain number of people by growing foods, for 10 years. You grow less food, your people will starve. You grow just nice for the year, people will starve the next year. You grow too much, there will be foreigners coming into your land. So what do you do? Balance the net difference by killing your people, or growing rapid-growth vegetation or what? Your assets are a few acres of land, and some bushes.

On explaining the very nature and impact of this new medium at that time, Steve Jobs said —

“ It’s crude, but basically there are these 7 year olds playing with macro-economic model. And you can argue about the content of the model, but one thing you can’t argue about — They will sit there for hours, and play that, and learn… that is an interactive way of learning that none of us ever had when we are growing up.” 1

This is just one of the many examples on how technology makes us a better species. Definitely technology alone is not enough, but it takes central role in the progress — both by delivery of contents and via the delivery process itself.

Nevertheless the result may not always be in favour of us, not to mention how subconscious it can be. Just as computers are adaptive, Steve said, our brains are too. And as neurology has proven today, there’s no guarantee that it will always be for the good.

It was 1879.

About 100 years before the Mac, a philologist by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche had a terrible time of his career.

His mishap about 10 years earlier following a fall from a horse during his millitary years had worsened. This and several other ailments had taken a toll on his tenure as a professor at the University of Basel, as he had vision problems with ‘crushing headaches and fits of vomitting’ everytime he attempts at reading a page, let alone writing one. He was later forced to resign at the age of only 34.

However by turn of events, he discovered a newly-introduced writing ball (an old-fashion typewriter). It was an ingeniously made product with capacity to allow 800 words per minute rate of typing reproduction. This made the young professor exhilarated as he had found his lost literary and scholarly voice again. So he started typing, ending up with an ability to type efficient enough without even looking at his hand. Remarkable.

Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, 1878 model (yeah, that old).

However, this was not without another turn of event.

A close friend of his by the name of Heinrich Koselitz noted some unpleasant changes in him. He realised Friedrich’s earlier gentle proses, by some unexplained mechanism, had turned forceful and ‘iron-like’. Heinrich, a writer and composer, explained instead that his personal work often depends on the quality of pen and paper. So did the typewriter somehow changed his professor friend’s mind?

Nietzsche’s response, upon inquiry, was interesting. He said to his friend —

“Youre right. Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

This late 19th century event transpired at a time where the concept of synapse is still beyond much scientific understanding — An interesting moment where a young medical student named Sigmund Freud was still conducting his research on neurophysiology of ‘neuron gaps’. Thus it is understandable how ‘the forming of our thoughts’ was scarcely understood.2

But what about now? With all the progress in knowledge and understanding, have we learn anything from the past?

It was November 2011.

Just four years back, an amazing development happened in the world of contemporary tafseer (commentary of the Quran).

First volume of Al-Fathun Nawa

Dr. Halo N, a pharmacist by profession had produced a remarkable work on scientific approach to see the Quran, and respectively the other way round, published as Al-Fathun Nawa. It is an ongoing effort on the commentary of the Quran, as it so far covers Surah Al-Faatihah and the first 29 verses of Surah Al-Baqarah. Though rather brief, its richness is well manifested in the very way it expounds the verses. 3

The pearls are so abundant reachable even in its introduction passages. Under the headline of ‘Judul, Konsep, Maksud, dan Tujuan Penulisan’, specifically on his fourth novel method of Quran-to-Quran Tafseer, he quoted two verses from Surah Al-Qamar 54:49–50 —

إِنَّا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَاهُ بِقَدَرٍ | وَمَا أَمْرُنَا إِلَّا وَاحِدَةٌ كَلَمْحٍ بِالْبَصَرِ
Verily, all things have We created in proportion and measure. And Our Command is but a single (Act),- like the twinkling of an eye.

Classical tafseer such as one of Ibn Katheer will not fail to elucidate how this verse is speaking about Al-Qadr or ‘fate’ understandable by the very fact that the verse was revealed upon a group of the musyrik among Quraysh who came to the Prophet claiming against him on this matter of Al-Qadr. This understanding requires a reading from earlier verse which mentions about hellfire called Saqar. This particular tafseer did mention however about a topic so easily missed as irrelevant for any practical purpose. 4

Al-Imam Ibn Katheer commented that this Qadr also means — “His (Allah’s) knowledge on things even before its creation, and His decree on it before His leaving from it.” This is where Dr. Halo’s version shine.

This Indonesian author, instead of translating Qadr as above, forges the meaning further. In this manner he translated the above verse (in Indonesian) as follows —

“Sesungguhnya kami menjadikan tiap-tiap sesuatu dengan kadar (teori dan formula). Pekerjaan kami (jika formula ditemui) tidak lain hanyalah sepatah bagai sekelip mata.”


This is a very fresh perspective to a text of 1400 years ago. And it has the potential to connect almost immediately with todays readers, muslim and non-muslim alike. But before anything, this author explained further in his side notes saying —

“Ayat ini membuktikan Allah Ta’ala menjadikan segala sesuatu itu dengan metode yang tetap berorientasikan teori dan formula. Maknanya, jika teori dan formula ditemui, maka segala urusan bisa digambarkan sekelip mata… Oleh sebab itu, kegiatan untuk menentukan dan menemukan jalan fitrah adalah satu tugas manusia dalam keberhasilan setiap pekerjaan pada setiap sisi kehidupan.”

As far as our world is concerned, they are built in certain ‘proportion’ hereby described as ‘formula’ in modern terminology. It is with this right formula that the end result relies on — be it good or bad (or in between). And if we are to take this understanding further, we will arrive at the conclusion where pure intention alone (beginning of input) is not sufficient to meet the end-in-mind (output) no matter how clear it is, until we achieve one thing — the necessary intermediary; the working mechanism; the process!

And this realisation will make all the difference.

These stories of the past I begin with bear some resemblance, to each other and our topic in hand. They are important enough for us to appreciate the upcoming lines on the topic itself that is — WhatsApp.

And hopefully they will bring us to better understanding of the app, ourselves, and the future of the two.

(Continue with Part 2…)

Side note 1 — WhatsApp describes itself as a ‘mobile messaging app’ aiming to be an alternative to SMS. It was founded by two ex-Yahoo staffs, Brian Acton and Jan Koum back in 2009. It had signed a deal with Facebook for a valuation of USD 19 billion.

Read also — Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Finale


  1. Steve Jobs — International Design Conference at Aspen in 1983. YouTube; 2012. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWwLJ_6BuJA
  2. Nicholas Carr. The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read, and remember. Great Britain: Atlantic Books; 2010.
  3. Dr. Halo N. Al-Fathun Nawa. Indonesia: CV Pustaka Al-Fathun Nawa; 2011.
  4. Mauqi’ Al-Islam [Internet]. Wizarah Asy-Syu’un Al-Islamiyyah wa Al-Awqaf wa Ad-Da’wah wa Al-Irsyad; [cited 2015 Dec 12]. Available from: http://quran.al-islam.com/Page.aspx?pageid=221&BookID=11&Page=1
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