It's a bright morning; you wake up in high spirits. Finally, today, unlike yesterday when you couldn't tear yourself off Netflix, you are going to get some work done.
After your traditional cup of coffee, you check your email and then your WhatsApp and there are 250 new messages, most of which you know are spam memes and fake news.
Worse, you have been added to yet another group. Maybe it's a baby shower for a friend of a friend that you don't know, or fundraising for someone you have never heard of, or a coming together of childhood friends you haven't seen in decades and aren't really interested in talking to.
You can hear your heart sinking. There's now going to be even more messages disrupting your sleep and 'eating' your data.
We are at home. Social distancing is in, gatherings and parties are out. But we are humans, we need social interactions. So what do we do? We utilise the digital tools available. Enter Zoom, WhatsApp, and social media.
But WhatsApp is the most notorious. It's appended to our phones, to our daily lives, and as long as you have the app, you don't have to click on anything to get a flurry of messages from a zillion groups that you thought you muted.
You still need it though, to keep your network alive, tune into family goings-on, keep up with work, get the latest from your children's school, and of course, keep abreast with the latest statistics on coronavirus.
But then the constant notifications and reflex to scroll for funny memes or send messages to people low on the conversation list just to say hello can feel like a trap.
You want to stop spending so much time on convenient but seldom meaningful chats and limit it to what is necessary. If you have found yourself plotting on how to quietly leave another group that is no longer serving you, you are like many other Kenyan women.
WhatsApp is an excellent avenue for spreading information, especially amongst small clusters. A 2019 study by researchers from Abu Dhabi University found that it could easily replace face to face conversations.
Unlike emails and text messages, the WhatsApp blue tick comes in handy to see when someone has read your message but they are ignoring you.
Even with its effectiveness as a communication tool, the WhatsApp group is still a headache for many women.
To get a better feel of it, we conducted a dipstick survey of 20 Kenyan women aged between 24 and 50, all using WhatsApp.
Seventeen of them reported having left or muted a WhatsApp group because they were added without their consent or the group lost its objective somewhere along the way.
The words used to describe these groups were 'annoying' 'intrusive', 'violation' and 'imposition'. "The worst experience for me has been the high school WhatsApp group. It was like being in high school all over again," says 29-year-old Rose Njenga.
Rose, a Nairobi based photographer, says her former schoolmates' group is a show and tell contest. "It is as if the popular girls in high school put together groups to continue with the charade. There is a lot of bullying and the group rules keep changing to favour a few people. It's like being in high school all over again. It unsettled me in the beginning but now I usually just ignore them and contribute when I am directly spoken to," she says.
If groups are giving her a headache, why doesn't she just leave? "I don't want to look bad or snobbish. You know how these things are," she says.
Where she has opted to ignore, she has seen others repeatedly stand up to the bullies. "There are people who are very vocal against unfairness and content that isn't helping in these groups and I think it's a good thing."
Muthoni, 32, is in 15 WhatsApp group,s mostly with family and friends and one with some of her clients from her hair business.
"WhatsApp groups are good for work and for keeping in touch with family and friends, especially at a time like now. People misuse them," she says.
On a usual morning, she will find no less than 300 unread messages on her WhatsApp. Not wanting to miss out on important information or to lose a sale, she has to sift through all of them to see which she needs to respond to.
"It is very time consuming and a waste of my data. I hate going through useless memes and forwards and useless debates to get to that one important message," she says. "I have tried to discreetly leave a group once or twice. I can't take another group in my life," she says in frustration.
She speaks about three characters she hates in her WhatsApp groups. "There is the bully who is aggressive and combative. The one that makes noise when the group has been too quiet. Then there is the whiner who likes to spill their personal problems in the group as if people care. There's the fake news spreader. Then there is the show-off, every meal they have they share."
DEVELOP THICK SKIN
After some thought, she adds: "And people who sell plots and carpets and shoes on family groups should just stop. It's annoying. Inbox the person you think might buy," she admonishes.
Love them or hate them, the WhatsApp group is in our lives to stay. Whether it is a headache for you or not, will depend on how well you can navigate it and how structured your WhatsApp groups are.
It is evident that to navigate the world of WhatsApp groups, one needs to grow a skin thick enough not to care that people will not be happy if you leave a group that is no longer serving you.
A skin thick enough to leave a group more than once, if need be. Unfortunately, leaving a group is not always an option as this group is sometimes a source of essential information. What then?
"Three things: rules, rules, and more rules," says Nasimiyu, 34, a PR professional.
Nasimiyu is an admin of three WhatsApp groups, two work-related, and one with close friends. She runs a tight ship. "For a group to work, it must have rules of conduct," she says.
All her three groups have them, they are posted on the group often and if a member repeatedly breaks these rules, they are removed from the group.
"I am not very popular. I have been called a bully," she says. "The rules detail what can and can't be posted on the groups," she says.
She has found that scheduling discussions to specific times work to avoid information getting lost in other messages.
These are tough economic times, where everyone is looking to earn some money. It is tempting for members to see the group as a market for their goods and services. How can this be curbed?
"She has market days on Sundays, that is when all the plots and wigs on sale are posted. And she charges 100 shillings per post so that only the people that really need to post do," she shares.
WhatsApp, like other social media use, is prevalent in the workplace. Departmental WhatsApp groups are common and they come with their own set of challenges.
First, it can easily encroach on your personal life, where you have posts on the weekends when you don't want to be reminded of work.
Second, there might be that unfair expectations from employers or seniors for others to be available 24 hours a day.
"I do not think that work WhatsApp groups are a good idea. WhatsApp use should just be restricted to social setups," Linda Ouma, 33, sums up her opinion WhatsApp groups.
She draws from experience. "I work in a male-dominated industry. We formed a work WhatsApp group in 2018 and I found myself the object of a lot of sexual innuendoes. When I complained, I was told that I can't take a joke. I had to report to HR to make it stop. Then they formed another group without the women," she shares.
Work WhatsApp groups are even more challenging than social or family ones because it's easy for lines to get blurred.
For them to work, they need to run the same way the office runs. Dennis Thitu, 38, who runs Cannon Hygiene, a cleaning company, shares how he has helped his employees navigate WhatsApp groups.
"Only work-related content is shared in the group. I tell them to remember that anything you say or do there will be considered as done while in the line of duty so they are careful," he says.
"They have other smaller social groups among themselves, where they share personal issues."