Living without WhatsApp


‘I WhatsApp, therefore I am’. Sometimes, it feels like that. Can we really live without those little blue check marks? Definitely, but it does take some effort, as journalist Anneke Bots discovers.

In his book, Appen is het nieuwe roken (WhatsApp Is the New Smoking; Dutch only), self-proclaimed techno-philosopher Rens van der Vorst shows how we can apply the lessons we learned from smoking to our phone habits. Okay, he admits, WhatsApp won’t kill you—unless of course you’re hit by a car driven by someone sending text messages—but the analogy does apply to many other aspects.

Much like the tobacco industry, app builders have a preconceived plan to make sure we get addicted. Tech companies use all sorts of marketing tricks to make sure that we reach for 
our phones dozens—sometimes hundreds—of times each day. ‘Just like with smoking,’ Van der Vorst concludes, ‘the users are the victims. We have been turned into addicts.’ He sees even more parallels: One is, just as it is irritating to breathe in someone else’s second-hand smoke, it’s incredibly annoying to see someone’s eyes wander to a screen that’s lighting up and typing a response ‘that just can’t wait’.

We have to use what we learned to address the nicotine addiction, Van der Vorst says. He advocates text-free zones, such as during meetings, at festivals and in train compartments. He even sent a proposal to the Dutch Hospitality Industry Association about converting the 
soon-to-be-eliminated smoking areas 
in bars into smartphone-free areas.

  • Read the full story ‘Find me @nowhere’ in issue 32.

Text Anneke Bots  Illustration Penelope Dullaghan

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