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I declare 2016 the year of the group chat – social media your own way

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “I declare 2016 the year of the group chat – social media your own way” was written by Bridie Jabour, for theguardian.com on Friday 23rd December 2016 23.22 UTC

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The morning I was getting married I was sick with nerves. Sitting in my mother’s house – while my sisters whooped it up with excitement, and my aunts and uncle buzzed around, with people continuously asking how I was feeling – instead of screaming, I texted some mates.

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I knew I didn’t have to explain much, if anything, to them and once I sent a message saying, ‘I feel sick,’ I got about 20 back. Some were reassuring, some were glib, some were funny – actually probably only one was funny – and the rest were just lovely. About half of these people I had never actually met in real life.

They’re my group chat. This year is the year of plenty of other things, for sure, but 2016 is also the year of the group chat – when everyone (well, OK, almost everyone) is in one, or has been in one, or has at least experienced one for a day. iMessage, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger are usually the means used and they can be three people or they can be 30. Made up of old school friends, your siblings (a common one) or, like mine, which now has 23 people in it, random idiots who are all loosely connected through mutual friends.

It’s social media but with none of the hassle. It’s better than Facebook because your parents aren’t on it and the private groups are falling apart too easily. It’s better than Twitter because there’s nobody yelling at you for your opinion. And it’s better than Instagram because it’s not curated.

It’s part of an ongoing trend to stop publishing every thought to thousands of followers and instead engage with more exclusive, smaller circles of people.

I was added by a mate when I ran into him at a party. I hadn’t heard of about a third of the people when I joined and still haven’t met a few, but I am in more consistent contact with them than my real-life best friends or my parents. We message every day. Sometimes, when I look at my phone, there are more than 400 messages.

Mostly our conversation is filled with hateful memes and dumb jokes. Very dumb jokes. We post links to interesting stories and tweets, and spend days roasting members. We send photos of cool places we are visiting and, like most friendship groups, we have in-jokes that are sidesplittingly funny to us but seem pretty mediocre when said out loud to other people – such as referring to babies as our friends. You had to be there.

Mornin’ folks

Glorious day in the good city today

What if nukes stop climate change? Extremy lefty conundrum

Hmmmm I don’t think they do

Once a guy told us he was enjoying some gelato while writing and we “couldn’t do anything about it” as a half-arsed joke. Three minutes late the server walked up to him and said, “I’m afraid you are not allowed anymore gelato,” after a member of the chat rang the shop and put him up to it.

Two baby births have been announced in the chat. A few books have been or are in the process of being published, property has been bought, overseas moves made, hook-ups dissected, advice given on that suit (“You look like a giant baby”).

We say things to each other that we wouldn’t say out loud to many, if any people. We talk about our families, our relationships, mental health, asshole colleagues, politics and Isis. We talk all day, every day.

A colleague has a group chat that has been going for years and which does the same kind of petty time wasting such as looking up serial killers with the same name as its members.

The group chat has become so ubiquitous in 2016 that BuzzFeed Australia’s political editor, Mark Di Stefano, thanked his in the acknowledgments in his book, What a Time to Be Alive.

One person wrote to me of his group chat: “I say things in here I wouldn’t come close to saying to other people. We jokingly refer to it as a safe space, but it’s kind of not a joke. There’s an understanding that nothing leaves that chat if it’s heavy enough.

“We talk a LOT about our personal lives, sex lives, fantasies, depression, all that shit. It’s 90% on the level of self-aware irony and joking, but there is a tiny bit of ‘realness’ that comes in from time to time too … I think we check each other a bit, as well as just being able to check ourselves by writing our own thoughts.”

He also has another group chat for what he says would be “intensely boring in general conversation”.

“Like not being able to understand anything I read by Deleuze, or why I don’t like a particular guitar solo on a particular Kinks song.”

With so much hand-wringing over our relationships with our phones, what can be lost is that there are actual people on the other side of our interactions. Pre-phone, pre-group chat, who would you be able to tell if you thought you were about to have a panic attack at work? Who could you talk to at the 3am hour of gloom when you are going over that conversation you had with that person four years ago that seemed innocuous at the time, but what if they hate you now?

It’s also a great way to learn things – sometimes, things you would be far better off googling. One member only recently learned that you can get more than 10 meals from a cow, that there is more than one flank steak per cow. He got rightfully roasted for it. But that’s the beauty of the group chat – it’s a safe space for mates to rip on you when you deserve it but with none of the viciousness of the Twitter pile-on.

The group chat could be the last place on the internet you’re allowed to be wrong about things.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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