Like any upstanding millennial, a lot of my time – probably too much – is spent talking in group chats.
On the loo, in the dentist’s chair, during a job interview, carrying a casket – you name the instance, I’ve probably gone about it either embroiled in a group chat or thinking about one. A slave to the buzz alerts constantly ticking away in my pocket.
Frankly, I cannot remember nor do I care about my first hit. Much like a meth head. All I know is that I’m addicted and do not currently possess the skills to go cold turkey.
The initiation of the modern group chat for most millennials likely took place within the 2000s confines of MSN. If not that then maybe those obscure comment boxes you would find on Piczo sites where users could anonymously tell their crush they fancied them only to berated by others also inside the chat.
But since then it has exponentially out-done itself to the point where group chats are as popular if not more so than your average one-on-one messaging.
The actual hobby of groups of people chatting obviously predates smartphones. Neanderthals almost definitely gathered in gangs across Eurasia to grunt about how one of them discovered a stick, likewise being among the confidantes to a lecherous emperor in ancient Rome must have made for some real-life laugh-cry emoji. Today, rehab attendees will be encouraged to speak about their troubles to a room full of other people.
The difference with rehab, however, is that it’s specifically designed as such. Bringing drug or drink abusers in front of similar ilk makes them feel less isolated and alien. A reminder that there’s other people out there both like and looking out for them.
Group chats on Facebook and WhatsApp on the other hand are just for saying obscene things and praying to god that MI5 don’t leak the transcripts when you’re rich and famous.
But are they also therapeutic? Are we all inadvertently in rehab when we roast our mate in the group chat for being a delusional Scouser, or for being whipped?
I got in touch with Dr. Pamela Rutledge to see if there’s gravity within the group chat.
She told UNILAD:
Group chats, like all things, are neither all good nor all bad. Groups have long been a function of therapy.
In therapeutic applications, they are led by a mental health professional to make sure that everyone has a turn and that the conversation stays on topic and appropriate to the purpose.
They function as a means of normalising challenges and creating a bond of social support.
Dr. Rutledge advises punters to avoid ‘negative’ group chats, however, that have trolls or others who take advantage of other’s vulnerabilities or that fall into the ‘poor me’ trap.
Online chats can function the same to provide social support. Many chats are managed to monitor for appropriate behaviour, others are self-policed.
When groups have a strong identity, they self-police by demanding adherence to social norms.
This isn’t true of all groups. Not all chat groups can be considered support groups in the therapeutic sense, although social connection, whether over disability or fandom, is a positive.
So how does one sound out a group chat? Isn’t it natural just to get stuck in from the get-go instead of risk looking like a left-on-seen snake?
Apparently not. Dr. Rutledge said it’s important for us to ‘listen’ to a group chat before joining in on the roasting of someone.
The only way to know for sure is to join a group and ‘listen’ for a while, read past posts and see how the group feels. Just because a chat group is there, doesn’t mean you have to participate.
Group chats, according to one social psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, is not even emotionally fulfilling. Furthermore, it totally burns us out.
In a 2012 Ted Talk titled ‘Connected But Alone’, Turkle rubbished the idea of FOMO, saying that being too clued up on every aspect of our friends’ lives through electronic communication can leave us ill-prepared for genuine, emotional conversations in real life.
Constant connection is changing the way people think of themselves. It’s shaping a new way of being… we use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings, even as we’re having them.
Turkle stated that by spending every day talking to each other over text we don’t allow ourselves the time to recharge our batteries, that solitude is key to maintaining a healthy brain and outlook. Though group chats appear to be conducive to keeping in touch in the short term, it’s causing our relationships to suffer in the long term.
Conversely, psychotherapist Nicole Amesbury, Head of Clinical Development for online therapy service Talkspace, believes the positives of group texting outweigh the negatives.
That it’s better to connect socially via online means than to not connect at all.
She told Dose:
Human evolution shows very clearly that our brains evolved in a social context so that we develop the ability to give and receive emotional support and care through social means. Both neuroscience and evolutionary theory support that we interact socially as a means to improve our well-being. Whether this is done via text or in face-to-face interactions is not as important as how and what we choose to share with others.
But what else is there to life outside of group chats? Board game nights? One-on-one pints? I’m not sure if this is a world I want to live in just yet, but I’ll reserve all judgement until that day comes.
It seems that, essentially, group chats are what you make them. They split opinion and probably always will. While there are huge benefits to the constant glowing buzz of WhatsApp and Messenger, maybe sometimes it’s worth sticking your chats on mute for a few hours.