WhatsApp? Nothing much
Cutting the final tie to Facebook
For ages now, WhatsApp has been my last remaining toe in the Facebook camp. All 3 of my sisters and a handful of friends that I particularly want to stay in contact with use it. But I’d really like to make a decisive break with all things Facebook. I deleted my Facebook account itself (then barely 18 months old) over three years ago. At the time, I believed I could continue to use Messenger to keep in touch with some of my former Facebook friends, but it turned out that the Facebook help page that had held out this possibility was out of date (though still turning up in Google search results), and Messenger wasn’t available to me unless I was willing to resurrect my whole FB account. Fine, I thought, clean break it is.
Instagram had never appealed to me: a proliferation of ugly hashtags and no links in posts, are you serious? Add to that the fact that I’m just not a visual person. One of my sisters had got me onto WhatsApp a few years before it was acquired by Facebook. At the time, I didn’t have a data plan (or a smartphone: just an iPad 2 and a 4th gen iPod Touch), so I could use WhatsApp only when my “feature” phone was connected to wifi. It wasn’t particularly useful, but it seemed harmless so I kept it. I started to have misgivings as soon as Facebook bought it.
After years of being derisively dismissive of Facebook, I joined in late 2015, only because I had self-published an ebook that I wanted to promote. It turned out that (unless I’d been prepared to develop the skills of a Facebook ad ninja) Facebook was a not a good place to promote a self-published book, but was a surprisingly good one for keeping in touch with family and other relatives and for reestablishing contact with friends whose radar I’d fallen off. But there was a price to be paid in attention and fury, particularly as my time on Facebook spanned the Brexit referendum and its immediate fallout, the 2016 US presidential election and a French présidentielle in which Marine Le Pen had to be taken seriously as a candidate. By mid 2017, I was all Facebooked out, so I was happy to leave.
My continued use of WhatsApp has bothered me ever since. I’ve tried to persuade my sisters and other regular contacts to move, first to Wire (which was reputed to be much more secure than WhatsApp), and more recently to Microsoft Teams. I’ve been using Teams at work for a while and have found it useful and relatively free of annoyances, so the recent introduction of personal accounts on mobile (including iPad) seemed like the best opportunity I would ever have to zap WhatsApp permanently.
When I had to replace my phone late last year (because Microsoft finally ended support for Windows Phone), I decided to get, not an iPhone (I already had the latest iPad Air and plans to replace my 5th gen iPod Touch with the a 7th gen one; surely it would be a bit extravagant to get an iPhone as well?) or an Android phone (Google is another company I want to reduce my dependence on), but a Nokia 2720 Flip running KaiOS.
WhatsApp is available for the Nokia, but it’s a hobbled, cut-down version. It can’t be used with the web app (so no full-size keyboard), you can send and receive pictures but not other attachments, no voice calls, and until a month ago no emoji in messages. Add to that that the phone has an old-style hardware keyboard, making it necessary to use T9 to write messages, and I think it’s clear that in choosing that phone I was putting obstacles in the way of my continued use of WhatsApp! (To be fair, I’ve always liked T9 and I think I’m still a bit of a whizz on it, but the KaiOS implementation has some annoying eccentricities.)
Anyway, today is the day I had set for deletion of my WhatsApp account. I’m a little worried about losing contact with my sisters and friends, much as I was when I deleted Facebook in 2017. At the time, I wrongly believed that I had FB Messenger to fall back on. As it turned out, I got on fine without it. I’m sure I’ll get by without WhatsApp too. Most of my communication via WhatsApp is with a group. It’s convenient and frictionless and I’ve found it very useful, reassuring and comforting, particularly since I’ve no longer been on Facebook itself. But I’ve been asking myself if individual, personal, one-to-one communication — by email, SMS, Teams or even WhatsApp itself — isn’t more valuable. I’m probably about to find out. Here goes.