My mother became addicted to WhatsApp when her mother passed away in the winter of 2013. She used it, she said, to “fill up a vacuum,” numbing her grief with the mindless banter of a handful of WhatsApp groups. In that endless stream of forwards  she sent and received —  the memes, the banal humor, the viral videos, the “Good Morning!” GIFs, and the hoaxes  —  my mother found solace.

It didn’t take long for her early interest in WhatsApp to turn into obsession. She rekindled dusty relationships and joined at least a dozen groups, including a family group, a group for work colleagues, a group for school friends, a group for organic farmers, and another for environmentalists. Soon, my mother was spending half a dozen hours each day glued to her dinky Android phone, blasting her WhatsApp groups with forwards, and watching almost every GIF and video she received.

Many of these forwards ended up in my WhatsApp too. Sometimes, I got them twice because there were some groups we had in common. At first, I skimmed through, replying with a quick 🙂 . But their volume increased so rapidly that I was soon forced to stop replying entirely  —  there were simply too many. A few months later, my father called. “Your mother is sulking,” he said. “You haven’t been reading or replying to her WhatsApp forwards.” I was taken aback. Mom and I had been talking at least a couple of times a week on the phone. Still, she perceived me ignoring her on WhatsApp as a sort of personal affront.

“I’m emotionally invested in WhatsApp,” Mom explained when I called her to apologize….