A few weeks ago my friend sent me an app for Facebook messenger that can be used on desktop as opposed to phone. It enables you to use the chat feature without having a browser open. It seemed neat that someone had made that but with my browser open all the time anyway, I didn’t find myself using it as much.
Then a few days ago, in the middle of a challenging party planning job, I needed to make a group chat on WhatsApp for idea exchange. The problem was that many reference images I had searched and saved were on my laptop. To get them to WhatsApp on my phone I would have to first send them to myself on Facebook, then open Facebook messenger on my phone, then download each image, and then send them out via WhatsApp. Tedious.
Okay friend, need you. “Is there a WhatsApp for desktop?” I asked, only half expecting victory. The answer was yes, with a big wide grin.
Conveniently, friend happens to be a genius programmer. He looked it up and sent me a link, adding “looks like you’ll have to build this one from source. Are you ready for an adventure?”
We went on a journey into the world of development. Through multiple remote access sessions and ongoing narrations of what he was implementing, I ended up with an updated Terminal, my first development app, and…WhatsApp for Desktop.
Sounds like not a big deal. Oh but it was. Not only did it take measures that were completely beyond me, it was so fascinating watching all the work my friend did on my machine from hundreds of miles away. There’s so much happy intrigue in learning and seeing things you haven’t a clue about. It’s just wonderful. That was the first great thing—all that was new. The second surprise was the opposite—all that was familiar.
I used to be very active on chat applications in the 2000s—aim, msn messenger, etc. until they all died down. I resisted a smart phone as long as I could, but as the world changed around me, I had to give in. Texting went down substantially, but use of interpersonal apps went up—ones like DrawSomething, WordsWithFriends, WhatsApp. Over time I deleted all of them. WhatsApp remained but I began to avoid it too when I could. I just couldn’t do it, all that typing on the phone. It wasn’t hard and I was fast, but it didn’t allow for multitasking at all. And the constant switches to phone and back to laptop while I worked really slowed things down. It simply took too much time.
One of my best friends happens to be excellent at keeping in touch. We’ve used all modes of communication to stay friends—snail mail, phone calls, shockingly long e-mails, texts, MSN, AIM—name it. Our latest mode had been WhatsApp but at some point when I couldn’t find myself wanting to be on my phone for that long, I became pretty bad at staying connected. I would forget to respond for days; she would constantly ask “where are you?”
But then I got this desktop version, I was somewhat stunned by it. I was able to send things with so much ease to the party planning group. I could transfer stuff off of WhatsApp right on to my laptop. But the best of all—I began to have real conversations with my friend again. It was like old times.
A day before, I had seen a talk by Alain de Botton about the achievement of happiness, drawing from it that we must be conscious of what is around us and those things can enable us to achieve the higher needs that truly do make us happy. We feel that technology is taking over the world, but it need not be so grim. Perhaps it can help us keep the world we feel comfortable in. Having conversations with my friend again that way felt sort of like an obliteration of nostalgia, like I had traveled back in time while staying in the present, attaining a happy place that is tangible and not confined to memory alone.
Technology may be shifting the world, but it can also help us keep the old one. It can help make our lives easier, happier, and familiar, and we don’t have to do all of it alone. People can help us achieve that.
Sometimes a step forward can give us back what we thought we had to leave behind, exactly the way we liked it.
This summer, as I spent my last few weeks, last few days, and finally last few hours in the house I called home for 29 years, I couldn’t grasp what I was about to lose. I would never be here again. My life in that house flashed before me as I touched the walls of my room with a silent devastation, but my friend said don’t worry, this is only temporary, you’ll be in your house again, Allah will give it back to you the same and better—coincidentally, the same friend who helped me install WhatsApp.
I love it when he’s right.