First Culture

Are Less Africans Reading WhatsApp Messages?

In 2009, former employees of Yahoo, Brian Acton and Jan Koum founded an instant messaging platform which they named, WhatsApp, an intentional wordplay on the phrase, “What’s up?” By February 2013, the app recorded a global interaction of about 400 million active users every month and exactly one year after, Facebook announced that it was acquiring WhatsApp for $19 Billion.

When the messaging platform eventually reached the shores of Africa, it was received with glowing reviews. Unlike its predecessors, Mxit and more commonly, BBM, WhatsApp did not require both parties to be online at the same time to have a conversation, it did not require username or pins, nor did it work only on select devices, hurdles which will eventually promote the general appreciation of the App.

It was an adequate replacement for SMS messaging, all this new app needed was your phone number on whatsoever device, and it was when placed on beam with its competitors quite frankly a cheap alternative too. There were features that had never been seen on previous messaging platforms, it seemed surreal to automatically be able to text all your phone contacts with data, people reconnected with friends in faraway countries through this cheaper medium, an “Hey there I am using WhatsApp” was all the sign you needed to send a “Sup.”

There were groups too, nostalgia led to class groups, then church groups, then office groups. It was at that time a common phrase at meetings steered in the direction of adopting technology to foster communication to hear, “Just create a Whatsapp group so we can all talk,” because it was the easier alternative. Facebook had been milked dry, it was almost laborious to get the Facebook username of everyone, but phone numbers were easy to access and we assumed we could never get enough of this technology.

Quartz published an article  in July 2017 reporting that mobile revenue growth had declined in sub- Saharan Africa due to an increased preference for messaging services, majorly WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. The article highlighted the increasingly little need to use generic mobile services especially when the messaging apps provided both voice and video calls at sensible rates.

In another article which I stumbled upon that combined with a chain of personal experiences led me down a quite interesting thought process which eventually would culminate in this blog post, the writer explained that Texting creates its own relational vortex. That we should look honestly at our sleep, feelings of being drained by the pressure to stay on top of our texts, and use of down time. Let our friends and associates know that we’re not snubbing them, and use the extra time and mental energy to replenish your internal reserves.

On my Facebook profile which I (at the time of writing this) have over 4000 friends, and about 3500 followers, a total of an over 7000 people reach, I recently held a slight survey on the relationship of people with WhatsApp.

On analyzing data I received, I realized that 41% of people have a perfect relationship with the App. These people reply every message, some of them keep a close circle, some are freaked out by unopened messages and therefore open them all, some just really love to text.

Munukayumbwa Mwiya who helped collate this data had this to say; I don’t know what we did with our lives before WhatsApp. I’m pretty instantaneous about opening and replying to messages. If I don’t read and get back to you right away, I’m truly held up, or your message just doesn’t warrant a response. Or I don’t like you. And there are times it does get a bit overwhelming (I’ve deleted it at least twice out of frustration) but I hardly ever have unread messages. There was a time I was in three family groups, I’m super good at muting those, almost as good as I am at ignoring my family in real life (at least the kind of family that relies on WhatsApp groups for our communication).

Chijioke Anyacho believes the main issue of being unable to text stems from one’s contact list, Gideon Ogbonna just hates seeing the notifications and describes WhatsApp to be kind of a curse to him and Zainab Haruna in a rather catching comment says; Zero unread messages. I read every single message, respond to who needs to be responded, block who deserves blocking, wave away whoever is a pest. I looove whatsapp. On all my other IM platforms, I am so slow to respond but there’s just something about Whatsapp for me. I read and respond.

On the flip-side, collated data revealed that a whooping 59% of total respondents do not read their WhatsApp messages.

Rejoice Obike states that she hates the App and considers it very tedious, Ikechukwu Nwangu explains that those who know him well enough have an unlisted number that is always on. Whatsapp means he will get back to you sometime in the neighborhood of 1-6 hours from when you send a message, so if it is life-and-death important, call the unlisted line instead. Those who know, know. Those who don’t, use Whatsapp.

Wisdom Iwundu represents a category of users who open messages simply because they hate piles but don’t read them. In his exact words, I’ve tailored my conversations to be more business-like, a bit more semi-formal, so the entire chat history trajectory wouldn’t exactly encourage a contact to send a message when it’s not something worth talking about. Just to buttress this pet-peeve: I hate notification piles! I ALWAYS CLICK THEM even though I may not read immediately, and probably forget to read afterwards…but it’s just for my peace of mind.

Also in this category is Ada Stone who says, I have zero unopened messages because that red circle at the top of an app signifying how many unopened messages you have makes me feel like my phone is cluttered. Do I read through all? No. Do I respond to all? That’s an even bigger no. Some family and friends quarrel with me a lot because of it. Sometimes I open a message and start to type to respond and somehow, I never do. My mind says I have because I started to but the sender just assumes I’m ignoring them. I’ve been called rude, uncaring, nonchalant, all sorts and it used to hurt but these days, I’ve sort of become immune to it. I’m trying to do better but you see that red circle, I must attend to it immediately

For Edi Selmo Ifeanyi, his aversion for the app might not be working in his favor as he explains that he a few days ago missed a very good job opportunity because he opened the message two days later.

But people like Nicole Egede are trying to avoid occurrences like this while still maintaining a general repugnance to the app, she states that she has adopted the Pin feature to staple important contacts to the top of her list and ensure she doesn’t miss a message from these ones. The problem is however not entirely solved for a person who has a lot of important chats as WhatsApp limits the pin feature to a maximum of 3 chats at a time.

There are users like Uzoma Divine who have stealthily mastered the art of navigating the app without offending family members and friends who believe they are being snubbed by turning off their read receipts and last seen’s, there are those a little old fashioned like Ola Akin Dawodu who after having not replied your message give you a call instead.

There are users like Kozz Zantie who keep the circle small, and Adaobi Sugar who replies every message simply because she hates to not be replied too.

Whatever the case may be nonetheless and while we grapple with the daily updates to this instant messaging app that came at a time when it was really needed, the stats are clear, the figures are riveting, and we do need to answer the question sooner or later, perhaps not just for Africans but on a global scale really, are less people reading WhatsApp messages?


Featured Image: Beyond Black & White, Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

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Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke

Senior Editor working out of East Africa.

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Are Less Africans Reading WhatsApp Messages?

by Caleb Somtochukwu Okereke time to read: 5 min