Chronicles of a Family’s Obsession with WhatsApp

Didem Arslanoglu
November 20, 2019

If you’re a stranger to its intricacies, there’s a good chance that WhatsApp will perplex you.

The free, cross-platform messaging app is owned by Facebook (big surprise there) and is mainly recognized for its benefits when trying to communicate internationally.

As a Turkish-American, I try and communicate with my relatives who live in Turkey as much as possible. My grandfather is getting old and uses WhatsApp, which motivates me to consistently communicate and check in with him. (I might add that he has minimal success when trying to utilize the app, since he usually texts me a variety of eclectic emojis like a volcano mid-eruption, skulls—which give me consistent scares—and the woman in the red dress salsa dancing.)

It has certainly been a bumpy ride trying to navigate WhatsApp in the pursuit of frequently communicating with my relatives and giving them consistent updates of my life (which is a big ask considering a quarter of it is pretty lackluster.)

However, they like hearing about what meals I eat every day as an American, what American traditions I partake in—spoiler alert, cheeseburgers and football aren’t my thing—and whether I’ve considered getting my PhD in medicine yet. Granted, half of them live in the village where WiFi connection is hard to come by, so entertainment entails watching goats play-fighting in the farm and watching turnips grow, as opposed to binging a season of Fleabag in one night, like me. 

Oh, their forms of entertainment also include nagging me about what career I’ll be taking on in the next few years. Much to their disappointment, my plans do not include becoming a doctor. I haven’t broken the news to them that I’m an English major quite yet—I think that it might be a scandal in the village WhatsApp community.

I have third cousins, fourth cousins, and my fourth cousin’s grandchildren hitting my line on WhatsApp, which perpetually frightens me but also makes me question the culture of WhatsApp back home, and why it’s so popular there. Besides being an extremely trendy app for my Mediterranean kinfolk, it is popular among Middle Eastern, Asian, and European countries as well. I often wonder if I’m a walking stereotype when I’m seen in public texting on WhatsApp. You might even ask: Is WhatsApp a meme? I can’t give you a solid answer, unfortunately. 

Though WhatsApp and SMS have similar user bases, WhatsApp doesn’t require a cellular network to message others; it solely requires an internet connection. As a WhatsApp user, you can send instant messages, voice memos, and all forms of multimedia, and you can even communicate via face-to-face video calls. When my family of villagers gets their occasional burst of WiFi, I get to watch the goats play-fighting on the farm right along with them. Seeing my little cousins and grandmother from 5,554 miles away is pretty cool, after call. 

WhatsApp is very effective when trying to communicate with my international family and friends, but I still haven’t cracked the code as to why they have such an obsession with it. For now, I think I’ll sit back, utilize my WiFi connection, send a few gifs here and there, and wait until I get a video call so I can watch some turnips growing.