In 2014, I studied abroad in Brazil, where I learned, among many other things, that outside of the US, Whatsapp dominates the virtual-messaging world.
When I first started using the app, it worked like this: when you send a message, one small check mark appeared in the bottom corner, meaning the message had been sent successfully. Eventually, one check would turn to two, meaning that the message had been successfully received. However, there was no way to know if someone had seen your message, unless you saw them “online” when you sent the message.
Then, one day, I logged into Facebook and saw the status of one of my friends “Well Whatsapp, it was fun while it lasted, but if you need me, I’ll be using SMS from now on.”
I didn’t understand what he was talking about until I opened the app and sent him a message. I watched him appear online, and then, the two checks in the corners of my successfully delivered message turned blue.
Oh shit, I mouthed. Whastapp had implemented read receipts.
How Does It Work?
The sequence of check marks can be easily explained by the photo below.
What’s more, if you slide your finger from right to left over a sent message, you can see the time of delivery, as well as the time that the message was read.
Pros and Cons
For weeks after the blue check function was implemented, people joked that their relationships would soon fall apart, and altogether became much more preoccupied with who was reading their messages and when. Blue, check-marked messages with no response became motives for squabbles: why didn’t you respond when you read it? You’re not prioritizing me? What were you doing?
On the other hand, though, the blue check function worked to bring piece of mind.
I used to spend hours wondering if my double-checked message had actually been read, or if my message notification was sitting somewhere on an unseen screen in a duffle bag in a gym locker room. At least with the blue check functions, I knew with certainty when the message I had sent was seen by the recipient. Additionally, blue-checked messages that lingered for days without a response became a clear signal: this person doesn’t want to talk to you. No more making excuses about a lost phone.
Another con of the blue check function is the stress caused for those who truly are busy, but want to open a message to read it without worrying about hurting the sender’s feelings. The anxiety of opening a message without having time to respond, knowing that the sender may later follow up to inquire as to why you haven’t messaged back yet, can really weigh on people. The alternative, leaving the message unread, can cause stress for the receiver as they ponder what information the message holds.
Can I Turn It Off?
While many users have finally adjusted to the Whatsapp read receipts, there are many who still wish to de-activate the function. For Android users, this process is as simple as accessing Whatsapp’s Settings menu. Navigate to Privacy Settings and un-check the box titled Read Receipts. Voice messages will still display blue when played, and group messages will still be displayed as read.
For iPhone users, this process is more complicated. The process includes jail-breaking your device, followed by downloading an app that will turn off the read receipts. More detailed explanations of this process and the read receipt disabling app instructions can be found here.
It’s been almost a year since Whatsapp rolled out this feature, and contrary to how I felt the day I first watched two check marks turn blue, the world has not yet ended. After the initial stress of constantly checking back on messages to see if they had been read, and fishing for explanations when responses took a long time, this function eventually allowed me more peace of mind and clarity in relationships.
For many, however, read receipts continue to cause stress. My advice? Date someone with an Android.