What’s up with all these WhatsApp groups?

Hello gan group. And who the heck are all 35 of you? And if your kid is in tzhaharon, there’s a separate group for that as well.

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this picture illustration (photo credit: REUTERS)
Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Whatsapp logo in this picture illustration
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last year, within minutes of finding out where my three-year old was assigned a gan, I got a link from a friend. It was for a WhatsApp group, of course. The date was June 12. Gan was scheduled to begin September 1. They sent 114 messages that day. I sent none.

This was no mere negligence on my part. For me, it’s been modus operandi. I had done the same thing in previous years with my older son’s gan. 100% radio silence. And I kept to it more or less, with the odd exception to direct questions. It helped me maintain my sanity and perhaps an air of mystery – both of which can work to one’s advantage when navigating the misery of parenting in an overly connected world.

After that, I thought the worst was behind me. Alas, who knew kitah aleph was about to unleash an unprecedented bombardment, with a “fascinating” scope even the most mundane of us couldn’t imagine.

Let’s be fair. I have never been a particularly communicative person.

Long before it went out of fashion, I already hated speaking on the phone. In the rotary days, there was the sheer anxiety of who could possibly be at the other end should the devilish thing dare to ring.

Caller ID didn’t help alleviate the stress much. Now I could see who’s calling, and make the decision to answer based on that. But I still had a moral dilemma of immeasurable magnitude between speaking (which I hate) and ignoring (which can be rude).

Email and Messenger worked well for me, though. Non-committal. Paced. The ability to conduct conversations at someone rather than with someone. Shooting off information and not worrying about whether they’re listening. All at my own leisure, with long pauses in between.

Admission: I just logged into Skype for the first time since 2016 and actually responded to a message I had missed!

Then dawned the age of the text message, or what some might call the SMS. This was definitely the ultimate for communication on the go, and left us all wondering “How on earth did I manage to make plans before?” Technical wiz that I am, I did, however wonder how it worked. Was I being charged per character? Should I keep it short?

Plus, there was the damage to your thumbs. If you thought Zelda or Super Mario Brothers Nintendo would put an end to your aspiring pianist career, the triple-press letters were a whole new level. Sometimes my fingers were simply too tired to talk.

But soon all that worry was put to an end by the smartphone interface, followed by the advent of WhatsApp. Only while writing this did I bother to give it a Google search to find out what’s really up with WhatsApp. And low-and-behold this interesting tidbit: “WhatsApp Messenger is a freeware and cross-platform messaging and Voice over IP service owned by Facebook.” Well that, my friends, explains many things! Because until now I thought Facebook was just listening in on my calls! And now I know it’s more a full-frontal, professional stalk.

BUT THAT’S not really my problem with WhatsApp or Google or Facebook or anyone who has my sensitive, yet I’m imaging rather dull personal data, with which they can continue to send me endless unwanted targeted ads, to which I shall never respond.

I hate WhatsApp for the groups. Because you guessed it, as an anti-social sorts, if one encounter can leave me feeling anxious, the prospect of a group onslaught is well….

So while WhatsApp has certainly been a helpful tool for helping me keep in touch in the superficial way that suits me best – throw out a statement, get a response, smiley in return, repeat in a few weeks – it has also opened the arena to the herd effect.

And so back to the matter at-hand: Hello gan group. And who the heck are all 35 of you? Overly interested, over-achieving mamas and papas. And if your kid is in tzhaharon, there’s a separate group for that as well. And what are they saying there? Well from my experience, they’re usually asking when Hanukkah is starting somewhere around September. And then asking again on a weekly basis, until it’s time for say Purim.

They may also send an invitation to a kid’s birthday party, to which you will then get 33 beeps in a row wishing the kid “mazal tov” followed by 33 more beeps confirming (or not) attendance, because messages shouldn’t be mixed. You also get some bad jokes, requests for scrap paper, and even recipe advice mixed in.

This of course was in the time before corona, or should we now be calling it BC? Nowadays we’ve got 34 birthday wishes sent to a kid in seger, or links to YouTube videos from eager gannenot looking to justify their salaries.

But kitah aleph so far has been even worse. Just in the first week, topics up for extended discussion and debate included – the teacher said to wear a blue shirt, but I didn’t buy a blue shirt. Hint: Please don’t share that information. Just go out and buy one. They are 17 shekels, max.

Or how about, the teacher said the kids drew a picture of a clock in their notebooks, but my kid brought his home on a piece of A4 paper. Is that okay?

Then we had an extended interchange on the merits of one particular soccer class – who was going, and if kids should be going to after school classes at all. I could go on, but I’m starting to bore myself. And by the way, if you are guilty of such offenses, please recognize yourself, and realize, “I think therefore I am.” No need to send a WhatsApp message to confirm.

CORONA HASN’T helped here, either, since we’ve been punished with distance learning, Zoom and now Google Classroom added to the mix. So I keep getting hundreds of messages a day on today’s assignment, tomorrow’s assignment, and why doesn’t the teacher ask us to upload the assignments so she can check them and show the kids they need to take this more seriously? (The latter are seriously deranged).

We’ve also had a vote for the parent committee, which took place between about eight sad saps, who couldn’t wait to fall into formation, giving anyone actually working no chance to even respond. Again, I actually have no clue who these people are, so hip-hip-hooray for them, I guess?

Then there’s the building WhatsApp group, while I’m on a rant. There happen to be 64 apartments in my particular building, so you can imagine what goes on there. Wow! In addition to a lot of arguing, there are never-ending updates like (and I kid you not): Whose dog pooped in the stairwell, whose car is blocking mine, why is my neighbor’s bunny running around the hall, and even who let the burglar in – all of which of course include a picture of the offense. The problem is, these kinds of updates are literally rage-inspiring. But let’s be honest and real: no one who left dog s&*t in the lobby is going to see a WhatsApp post and suddenly start to care (that being said, I’m totally fine with the public shaming element of that).

Now what about work WhatsApp groups? These can get awkward for a number of reasons. One, it’s not always obvious how to keep the conversation going. Plus, what happens when someone leaves? Their job that is. Do you take them out of the group or do they self-excuse with a qualifier that doesn’t mention what a bore you’ve always been, but more alludes to the sensitive nature of your intra-organizational discussions?

What’s the point of all this, really? I mean, about as much as keeping in touch with a bunch of people with no clear agenda over the course of time.

So do what any ambitious modern person would do. If you agree, make sure to spam this to everyone you know, via WhatsApp of course. Actually, I’ll probably just post on Facebook, since I don’t want to be a hypocrite, or an outcast from any WhatsApp group.

The author is a freelance writer and editor living in Holon. Due to recent events, she like others may soon qualify as a full-time teacher, professional referee and somewhat mediocre chef.