Whatsapp disrupted texting as we used to know it, it’s UX has some unintended effects, but how has this influenced romance?

I’m a sociologist by training, curiosity led me to the world of tech where I'm still chasing Morpheus’ white rabbit.

Anyhow, social action has two effects, according to Robert Merton:

  1. Manifest functions are those that are intended and recognized,

  2. Latent functions are the opposite of manifest functions, and may in fact, undermine the manifest functions.

For example, if a dude confesses to his bae that he’s been cheating on her with the goal of rebuilding a relationship on the brink of collapse  —  the latent function might be a nasty breakup by bae.

I believe that goofy example above contextualizes the concept a little bit, so let’s quickly examine some of the UX aspects and see how can the latent and manifest function of a Whatsapp UX component influence your romantic life?

Assuming you’re a regular Joe or Jane who texts their crush/ boyfriend/ girlfriend or the person you’re allegedly just hanging out with.

Status Updates

In classic XMPP  —  the main instant messaging (IM) protocol, status isn’t such a big deal: but in Whatsapp’s unwritten romantic language, a status photo or text update is usually a silent message to your crush, boyfriend/girlfriend or your ex.

Case in point, I once posted my then-new-crush’s selfie to get my super ex-girlfriend off my back: it worked like charm.

Last Seen

Yup, when was your boo last seen on Whatsapp?

He/She tells you that he’s/she’s having a headache and can’t chitchat tonight, so you bid each other goodnight. Then you wake up the next morning and see that your boo’s last seen was 2 am in the morning.

Winter is coming

Winter is coming I tell you, the Starks were right about this.

Message Read Receipt


I’m talking about that pair of blue ticks which indicate that your message was read. Now let’s do the rocket science here: on average, the state of your relationship affects and is affected by how long your bae takes before he/she responds to your Whatsapp text at ceteris paribus  —  all other factors holding constant.

Blue ticks

In other words,the state of your relationship is directly proportional to average response time  —  with shorter response times denoting a healthy state.

The Call Button

The profile stalker’s booby trap.

I have been caught in the act of stalking persons of interest several times by this call button  —  this profile stalker’s booby trap.

Whatsapp doesn’t have a profile views feature, the latent function of this button has been exactly that: who clumsily tried to view my profile.

Teren! Teren! drum roll.

Now if your new crush get’s caught while attempting to peep at your profile  —  that would make you glow, you’d feel wanted.

What if an ex gets caught doing the same thing?

It might indicate that they’re missing you or haven’t fully gotten over you or…blah…blah..blah:it also means you’ve got a paradox to solve  — * what will you do about that?*


The final nail in the coffin.

When one party feels too much pressure to keep up with the texting demands of the other party, without having a confrontation about message response time…blah…blah..blah: they might chose to uninstall Whatsapp.

Uninstalling might also be a use case of an estranged lover trying to delete painful memories from their Whatsapp chat roster  —  now that the app doesn’t have a delete button where you get to remove a person from your list of people you’ve chatted with.

You don’t want to be repeatedly reminded of a nasty breakup, unrequited romance, or any other form of arrangement that you had with him/ her every time you launch Whatsapp and see that person on your chat roster.

It’s a way to get a fresh start.

More Meditations

The Whatsapp design team might never have pictured how such a popular communication tool’s UX might influence romance between users, they had some manifest functions in mind when they designed these UX aspects: but latent functions creeped in, go figure!

As we design UIs and think about UX of our products, as full-stack engineers or designers, let’s try to factor in Robert Merton’s manifest and latent functions, or at least keep our minds open to the concept.

Cover Image, The True Color of Love | Keoni Cabral

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