The ugly truth about family WhatsApp groups | Nikesh Shukla

In the first of his new column, Nikesh Shukla reveals how a plan to make his WhatsApp group more interesting backfires badly

I f you have a family WhatsApp group, you can guarantee there’s a fringe group in existence, too. My fringe group is called “Family Moans”. Here is where we comment on annoying things said in the main family WhatsApp group. Usually, it’s how passive aggressive (name redacted) has been or why (name redacted) is mansplaining (name redacted)’s job to them given that (name redacted) works in (profession redacted) not (profession redacted).

The family WhatsApp group is an obligation, much like going home for Diwali or being the first one to text your parent a happy birthday. It’ll never be as fun as the groups you have with your mates. But you can never get annoyed and leave. Not if you want to be a good family member. When our one was first set up, I found it excruciatingly dull. It was often just my dad and sister making arrangements.

“Dad, just leaving now…”

“Darling, my flight lands at 10.30pm.”

“OK, I will meet you in the short-stay car park.”

“Where are you? I’m in the short-stay car park.”

“So am I! I can’t see you.”

Initially, I did what all good children do and muted the group. But when I noticed the messages swelling to 34, 52, 74 I thought maybe I should check in. And lo and behold, buried between all the mundane stuff, I found messages about new babies, news from our family in India and some nice photographs Dad had found of Mum. I was stung by shame. I could no longer say I didn’t know about (name redacted)’s engagement party or what time to turn up at mataji’s on Sunday. Part of me felt guilty that I didn’t live anywhere near my family.

My guilt didn’t last long. A few weeks later, my dad and brother-in-law spent an entire evening debating the correct wiring options for Dad’s new hi-fi. They went back and forth endlessly about connections, insulation and wire management. It was tedious. I was at home, watching TV, feeling my phone buzz repeatedly. And every time I checked, it was about wires.

Feeling uncharitable, I questioned, in the family WhatsApp group, whether there was a way we could make the group more relevant. Which, it turns out, is a big interstellar no-no. Here’s your take-away. Never ever question the content of the family WhatsApp group. If it’s relevant to you, cool. If it’s not, be a good child/sibling and shut up. Turn your notifications off.

Mute the group. Go for a walk. Concentrate on Strictly instead of your phone. My brother-in-law tactfully replied that they were planning on sorting out the wiring in the morning and so he needed to know certain things. Which should have been enough for me to think, yeah, true say, my brother-in-law is giving up his weekend to help Pops out while I stay here doing nothing.

Instead, I doubled down. I said: “Maybe we could intersperse the boring arrangements and wire chat with the occasional interesting fact…” I Googled an interesting facts site. I typed: “Almost is the longest word in English with all the letters in alphabetical order.” I typed again: “Sean Connery wore a toupée in all his James Bond movies.” Then I added: “All I’m saying is imagine we had all this content alongside the boring stuff. It’d make me want to check it more.” Dad replied: delete this group please. I realised my mistake and started backtracking, apologising and saying I wanted a group relevant for everyone. To which my sister replied, you complain about never knowing what’s going on, and then you complain when you know everything that’s going on.

This rankled with me. Months before, Dad had told me that I looked for flaws in everything and it was tiring to be around. If you can’t have a bit of light character assassination in a family WhatsApp group then what point is there? So nowadays, I’m an active member of the group. Half the stuff is utterly tedious and the other half? Well, it’s my family.


Nikesh Shukla

The GuardianTramp

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