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WhatsApp, a love letter: “In the first flushes of the pandemic, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.”

Phones and the pandemic: Esther O’Moore Donohoe on actually answering your phone, voice notes, and video calls

Since last March, I am lucky enough to have been in a committed and supportive relationship. Not every couple has survived the intensity that this year has imposed on us but together, we have thrived, against all odds. I know – I scarcely believe it myself. Pre-pandemic, I needed daily alone time but me and my partner have rarely been out of each other’s sight over the past 16 months and I’ve kept both my sanity and sense of self intact.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve ordered unnecessary things off Amazon together and it’s fine! 

And, like all healthy relationships, my lovah sleeps on the floor next to my bed, tethered to the wall by a USB cable. Guys! I’m talking about my phone! Did you see that one coming?! Take a couple of minutes now to stop laughing, compose yourself and continue reading.

My bashed iPhone 5X is the best boyfriend I’ve ever had and I won’t have a bad word said about it. Please, don’t even mention the word ‘android’ in my presence. It ain’t happening. 

My iPhone doesn’t get jealous when I talk to other people and will only step in to warn me when it feels my volume levels are too high, which I dutifully ignore. When it needs me, it uses its very specific love language of beeping and vibrating violently until I pick it up. It is also very clear with me when it tells me it needs more space. Every time I take a photo, it prompts me to delete 17 videos and five apps; I willingly comply. However, whilst I have no problem temporarily saying goodbye to my podcast, Netflix and YouTube apps, WhatsApp never gets touched.

My WhatsApp is the Lord of the apps as far as I’m concerned. It’s helped me stay connected to family and friends throughout our enforced isolation and served me more memes than one gal could hope for.

I needed to know what was happening everywhere, with everyone, at all times. The distance and control that texts, voicemails and notes offer just didn’t cut it. Instant gratification and assurance was the order of the day and video calls were my weapon of choice. Seeing people’s faces couped up in their kitchens too made me feel less scared and alone. It reassured me that we’d be okay. At the same time, the family WhatsApp became a rolling Sky News news ticker, updated in quarter-hour increments.”They’re queuing for shops in Italy!’ ‘I can’t get yeast!‘ ‘Jessica Alba’s doing another Tik Tok!’ We used the app as an intense information hub into which we all vomited our fears and anxieties. But if we time travelled back to say, February 2020, it would have been a different story.

Back then, I would regard someone calling me on WhatsApp, as opposed to the actual phone itself, as an act of violence. I’d hear the phone ring, stop what I was doing and then watch it out of the corner of my eye go through its cycle before getting a missed call notification. Who were those people? Did they not know that phones were no longer intended to actually talk to people but rather, were conduits for cancelling plans or telling someone you were running late via text? We didn’t want our phones to hold us accountable by talking to whoever was calling in real time. We acted then as bodyguards for our ears.

Cut to March 2020 however, when we were all hoofing it around Dunnes, stocking up on vats of tinned carrots. Then, I was never not WhatsApping someone. My beloved voice notes were not what I needed at that time. I had to expel my fears in real time.

But as the weeks and months went on and we got used to our n*w n*rmal (sorry), how we communicated with one another shifted.

From this vantage point, I can see now that these were, in one sense, the golden days of this entire shitshow. Whilst absolutely stressful and horrifying, we were still mostly on board with the ‘we’re in this together’ line. Collectively, it was like we were putting our best feet forward, pretending it was all fine. There were misty eyed declarations along the lines of ‘we’ll never have this time with the kids again’ on Instagram with an accompanying video of a three year old mastering basic Japanese as Father whittled a spoon out of an old twig in the background. We buoyed each other up with Facetimes and gently self-deprecating posts about our newfound love of baking. Sure, we temporarily dehumanised children for a moment and referred to them as viral spreading vectors, but we live and we learn. 

Fast forward to the present day. I no longer rearrange my shelves to look more presentable during Zooms because now I don’t put my camera on. A work teams meeting? I care not. You’re going to get a static shot of a grey avatar rather than a real-life vision of me with unwashed hair and ancient sweatshirt.

Nature is healing and it doesn’t want us to look at anyone via a screen. In Real Life is where it’s at now babies. My dad is still the only one who keeps trying to call me with any regularity on WhatsApp. Everyone else is back to doing what we do best, leaving Grammy award-winning voice notes and putting distance between us and our interactions once again. Oh, and I know some people regard voice notes as head melters but for me and my pals, we love, we laugh and we live for them.

Voice notes are ideal for busy working, late pandemic, humans. You can summarise your entire week in five minutes for a friend whilst making your dinner and then enjoy their 10 minute long response as you eat the aforementioned dinner, 20 minutes later. It’s a beautiful dance. 

But not everyone gives good voice note. I love all of my pals and am thrilled to get any kind of communication from them but when it comes to WhatsApp voicers, some people have the X-Factor. I suppose it comes down to chemistry. If you can find someone who is on the same messaging wavelength as you, cherish them. Never let them go. Me and one of my preferred voicenoters spent an entire day last week, volleying messages back and forth. During that time, I did a full days work (debatable tbh) defrosted the freezer, showered, cooked and daily walked all whilst being in constant contact.

Recently, WhatsApp introduced a speed up feature where you can play messages in double time. I asked a premium messenger of mine what she thought. She replied (via voice note of course) ‘Maybe in an emergency situation but I know the sender did not intend for it to be heard in that way so I prefer to listen to them in real-time.’ And she’s right. Voice notes are high art and if you disagree, I kindly invite you to leave me a 7-15 minute WhatsApp message. I’ll be all ears.