Dear Dr. Chani,
I would love to hear your guidance about an issue that I struggle with on a daily basis. I am laughing as I write this since it sounds so trivial. Yet, I am really upset by it. I feel I am being excluded by my friends and family on WhatsApp.
Like most people in our generation, I am pretty active on WhatsApp. I belong to many chats for my family, different groups of friends, and co-workers. Since I do not have the time to speak on the phone, I prefer to use WhatsApp to stay in touch with people. I love being able to see the photos people share and the clever memes and videos that I get.
When my close friends and family send me a personal photo or comment, I usually reply right away. Yet, when I share a photo of myself or an interesting meme, almost nobody responds. It is like I am virtually ignored. Why is it that people do not comment on the things that I share, when I take the time and effort to reply to them? Am I unimportant to them?
Sometimes I feel like I should just stop being active on WhatsApp. Maybe if I stop posting replies to people and sending out what I would like to share, I will not feel disappointed when people do not respond to me. I have thought about this a lot over the past two months, as I have been active on WhatsApp even more than usual.
What do you suggest I do to avoid feeling repeatedly rejected? Thanks so much for your help in advance.
Your letter raises very important issues about the impact of social media. What you are experiencing is not trivial at all. When a conversation happens on WhatsApp, it can feel almost the same as if you are having a conversation with a group of people around a lunch table, even though it is happening by text. When some people “speak,” people respond, but when you contribute, you are unnoticed. You feel like what you share does not matter to people. The lack of response makes you feel insignificant.
This is a very common issue. You might be surprised to hear this, but most people feel the same way as you do – more often than they would like. When you are the one who has shared something, you look forward to getting feedback. When you encounter utter silence, it can range from disappointing to devastating.
When we communicate on social media, we tend to blur the difference between ourselves and our messages and posts. We tend to feel that if our post is “liked,” we are liked. If our idea is commented on, we are noticed. Yet, they are two very different things.
People usually notice a post, forward it, or reply to it for one reason – because they appreciated the emotion it created within them. Emotions are what fuel social media. If they laughed, they want to now share that laugh or comment on it. If it encapsulated an idea that resonated with them, they want to pass that on to someone else. Reactions to a post are usually not a reflection of how people feel about the one who originally posts it. They tend to notice things and share them because of the feeling it creates within themselves.
These emotions are what make social media such a powerful force. Social media provides a way for people to share their emotions. That is also what gives it the power to hurt you so much. When you want to share an emotion you have and no one is there to share it with you, it feels empty and disenchanting.
How can you resolve this? One way to approach this issue is to think about what motivates you to share on chats. It sounds like you want to share for two reasons. The first reason you share is because something resonated with you and you would like to share that feeling. A second reason is that you are looking to connect with someone. It might be helpful for you to separate these two intentions so you can feel better about your sharing on social media.
When you choose to share on WhatsApp, let it be a way you express your thoughts, feelings and personality. Imagine that it is similar to the way you choose what you wear when you get dressed every day. You probably select clothing that reflects your mood, taste and sense of style. It could be that someone will compliment you on what you wear, but often they will simply notice without comment. In a similar way, when you share on WhatsApp, let it be a way to share something you enjoy or appreciate, regardless of the response.
Yet, when you want to connect with people, be sure you do so in a way that encourages each person to respond. One way to do this is to share content directly one on one, rather than in a group chat.
Group chats are good for sharing information en masse, but not necessarily for conversation. Part of this is because of a phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility. When jobs have to be done, most of us assume that “somebody” will take care of it. Each person presumes that it is so obvious that somebody else in the group will address it that no one ends up taking the responsibility.
The same can be true in WhatsApp groups. When you post something, it is possible that it does resonate with many people. Yet, they are too busy to respond. It touched them, but not enough to justify them taking a break to reply. They are sure that someone will do it. By the time they realize that no one did, the next message already came, and it is hard to turn back the clock.
When you would like to get feedback or to simply connect with someone, it might be a great idea not to rely on WhatsApp group chats. Rather, share your content directly with one or two people. You can also make a phone call or set up a time to meet. Nothing can replace the emotional connection of a conversation in “real time.”
I hope that you use WhatsApp group chats sparingly, and pursue direct ways to connect with your family and friends.
Wishing you all the best,