Instant Messaging and the sorry factor.

WhatsApp in 2022 was recorded to have a whopping 2 billion users, globally. While responsible for the exchange of about a 100 billion text messages. On a daily basis it is recorded that globally 500 million people communicate via WhatsApp. Furthermore, WhatsApp users communicate non-stop due to the user-friendly interface and overall ease enabled by the instant messaging according to In South Africa it's reported that WhatsApp users grew from 9.1 million in 2021, to 9.9 million in 2022. Additionally, “as of the fourth quarter of 2022, internet users in South Africa spent more than nine hours and twenty-seven minutes online per day, ranking first among the regions worldwide. Brazil followed closely, with roughly nine hours and fifteen minutes of daily online usage” This confirms that despite notoriously high data costs, South Africans spend a lot of hours online per day. According to the’s Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2021 report, which measures the average cost of 1GB of mobile data in 230 countries, SA ranks 136th.

 Then there is the phenomenon that has fascinated and slightly annoyed me for a while as an instant messaging app user. And that is our tendency to apologise for using the app exactly as it was intended. We apologise for “long” voice notes, long text messages and multiple story updates. Why are we sorry? The app is meant to enable a more user friendly experience in our bid to remain connected. Unfortunately, we seemingly experience issues of technology induced anxiety. The anxiety that comes up when communicating with someone virtually rather than in person. If a friend has thought to catch up with me and sends a voice note. And it happens to be 4 minutes long or more. Some are likely to feel the need to apologise for the length and joke about it being “mixtape season”.

I too have felt the need to apologise and frequently joke that I just dropped an album when wrapping up a voice note to a friend for that much dreaded 4-minute mark or more. My friend Tina Gxowa highlighted in a conversation via WhatsApp earlier this year that it was so odd to apologise because in person the same anxiety would not be present. In person we do not police or time ourselves to ensure we have not spoken too long. Ideally in physical space with your people, there is an excited yet calm vibe. We are likely to feel there isn’t enough time to touch on everything we want to chat about. Along with enjoying the simple pleasure of just being together. That is the very real difference between virtual/digital communication versus in person communication. 

That conversation with Tina was two people who enjoy the occasional long voice notes back and forth with one another unpacking that anxiety and seeking to reclaim the value of reaching out virtually to remain connected. Two people rationalising anxiety that we do not experience in person but sometimes shows up virtually. And it served me well. 

Friends, family, acquaintances or anyone we have granted access to ourselves, via instant messaging should not have to deal with this anxiety of taking up too much time. We are sensible people; we know what is appropriate. And in cases where boundaries are violated, we can teach people how to interact with us on the app. Along with exercising the liberty to opt in, regarding when to listen, read and respond. Shout out to my friends who are happy to send and receive those “long” texts and voice notes. Those who watch and engage with multi-entry story updates with humour. It is nice to have you in the real and virtual world. Rock with us, we are slowly catching up.  It’s fantastic that you are part of the group of people who Jenkins-Guarnieri et al. (2012) observe for using social media platforms to help develop relationships and to express a sense of self-identity as users.