Last week I deleted WhatsApp. Here, I explain why, and why you also might want to.
WhatsApp was the biggest reason I spent time on my phone. According to Screen Time, WhatsApp was always over half of time spent and pick ups on my phone.
I tried interventions like disabling notifications for WhatsApp. But I still found myself checking my phone the whole time to see if any new WhatsApp messages had come through.
It was as if I stuck in a never-ending game to see what new exciting reward was waiting for me in WhatsApp.
Even worse: WhatsApp acted as a gateway drug. It got me to pick up my phone, and I’d often go on to browse other apps mindlessly. WhatsApp would trick me into zombie mode.
I felt my phone addiction wasn’t going to change unless I did something about WhatsApp. Now that I’ve deleted WhatsApp, I spend far less time on my phone and am becoming less psychologically dependent on it.
One sense of “normal” is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.
I moved to thinking about WhatsApp in the second sense of normal.
I don’t think WhatsApp works best: for myself or most of its users.
That’s because I don’t think it’s normal to be:
- Hooked: constantly checking your phone for new messages
- Occupied: spending hours a day messaging
- Interrupted: by notifications from whatever you’re doing
- Distracted: from conversations with people who are with you by words from people who are not
Life without WhatsApp is still great. I still speak to the people I love and have great relationships with them. It feels normal.
WhatsApp has one crucial difference vs. messaging tools like Telegram or Facebook Messenger: it has to be run on a phone.
You can use WhatsApp Web to read and send messages from your desktop, but you still have to have WhatsApp on your phone to do this.
Which means that you can never delete WhatsApp from your phone and move to using WhatsApp on your desktop only instead.
That was a problem for me, since I find it much easier to control time spent on my desktop.
My desktop is a device that:
- is not always with me
- I’m not addicted to
So it made sense to delete WhatsApp and move to a messaging app which can be used on desktop only. For me, that’s Telegram.
One of the reasons I was addicted to WhatsApp was the high quantity of chats I had going on (meaning an equally high volume of messages).
I wanted to reset this quantity to zero, and build back up again from scratch. That way, I’d once again be in control of who I was in touch with, and I wouldn’t have a high volume of messages to keep me hooked.
I was in touch with people in two types of chats: groups and one-to-ones.
Resetting groups to zero was an obvious win.
Group messages (except for family groups) are usually low quality and high quantity. They are low quality because of their lower relevance - think about groups you’re in where a lot of the chat doesn’t address or interest you - and high quantity because of the basic arithmetic (groups have more people than one-to-ones).
I found it extremely hard to leave groups while I was on WhatsApp, because it’s a public action that shows on the group, and begs the awkward question “Why did you leave the group even though you’re still on WhatsApp - don’t you want to be part of it?“.
So deleting WhatsApp is a great way to leave groups. The reason you left the group becomes “Because I don’t use WhatsApp any more”, which feels more justifiable. And you don’t have to do the public action of leaving the group - you just delete WhatsApp and never interact with the group again.
Resetting one-to-ones to zero was not an obvious win.
I felt genuine sadness that I might communicate less with some people I love. But three things kept me going:
- I reminded myself that I’d always find ways to be in touch with those people, since I care about them. (This also helped me get over my fear of leaving family groups, which are an exception to some of my arguments about groups.)
- I now call people I love more than I ever would have before. This is good because I think calling is higher quality than messaging. It’s more personal and makes me feel happier. That’s particularly true in the case of some people I love who are weird over messaging (they write with a different personality to their in-person one).
- I remember from not having WhatsApp that I still had great relationships with the people I love, even if I was in touch a little less. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It’s not necessarily normal or desirable to be in touch 24/7 with your friends and family.
I think some people will not be convinced by these arguments about one-to-ones. They will be too sad to lose the one-to-ones, so they won’t delete WhatsApp.
That highlights a problem with the way most people use WhatsApp: it’s a mixed bag.
There’s loads of crap you hate (e.g. irrelevant groups), and there’s loads of gold that you love (e.g. one-to-ones with people you love, and family groups).
You’re too sad to lose the gold, so you keep the crap.
Here are the questions these people need to think about:
- How golden is the gold, really?
- Is there another kind of gold waiting for you in a life without WhatsApp?
- Is the gold worth the crap?
So deleting WhatsApp felt like a weight off my shoulders. I was finally out! Those annoying groups - gone forever! I felt in control of my digital life again.
It’s easier to think about the downsides of deleting WhatsApp vs. the upsides.
- Harder to be in touch with some people
- Miss out on messages that make you happy
- Get time back
- Be more present
- Miss out on messages that didn’t make you happy
- Be less anxious from not being hooked to my phone
- Have higher quality communication from calling more
For me, the upsides outweigh the downsides.
To sum up:
- I was addicted to my phone mostly because of WhatsApp
- I stopped thinking WhatsApp is normal
- I couldn’t use WhatsApp on my desktop only
- I wanted to get out of chats that weren’t making me happy, like groups
- I decided the upsides outweighed the downsides