How WhatsApp Changed My Entire Family - OZY | A Modern Media Company

How WhatsApp Changed My Entire Family

How WhatsApp Changed My Entire Family

By Lorena O'Neil



You might not understand what all of the fuss is about with WhatsApp — which Facebook just bought for $19 billion — but I credit it with strengthening my family. 

By Lorena O'Neil

If you lived thousands of miles away from your family, what would you pay to make sure your ties remained tightly bonded? Somewhere between $1 a year and $19 billion?

WhatsApp had 400 million monthly active users as of December 2013, according to its founders.

Well, we don’t all have billions of dollars to throw around (ahem , Zuckerberg) but if I did, my money would be on WhatsApp . And that’s because over the past few years, that little app has allowed me to keep in constant contact with my family, whether they are in Weston, Florida or Asunción, Paraguay.

Here in the United States, we take unlimited calls and text messages for granted. But in other countries, folks often have to pay per SMS message or for each minute of call time. It’s part of why BlackBerry Messenger had such an appeal abroad. Sending messages for free allowed people to communicate as much as they wanted, sans the high cost. WhatsApp blew BBM out of the water with its ability to connect people using a variety of phones: Androids, iPhones, BlackBerrys and the like.

The best thing about WhatsApp? Group messaging.

My mother is one of seven siblings, and she currently lives in the States, the only sibling to have left Paraguay permanently. She moved more than 20 years ago, and while she’s visited Paraguay multiple times since, it wasn’t until WhatsApp entered her life that she felt the gap of miles close. Now, through our Ayala family WhatsApp, with its 50 participants, my mother is kept abreast of all the family gossip.

WhatsApp’s emotional value is through the roof.

We are instantly updated about the status of Pati’s premature twins; we watch joyously as Facu takes his first baby steps; we listen to audio of Vero recounting how Edu proposed; we interrogate Paz over a potential new boy toy.


The concept of sharing photos, videos and stories to a large group is of course, not new at all. It’s why we relish Facebook and Instagram. The difference is, every single person on this group chat genuinely wants to be inundated with photos of babies or romantic overtures or a deliciously cooked steak. Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less about how a girl I went to elementary school with celebrated Valentine’s Day, but I want to hear every little detail about my cousin Sol’s first day of school. 

I’m not the only one to experience this. After the Facebook acquisition was announced, one of my friends mentioned that WhatsApp was a way for her family to stay connected following her father’s stroke. The app is international private communication for the masses. And its outreach extends beyond uniting long-distance families — the majority of my family in Paraguay uses it and they all live within 10 minutes of each other.

While I don’t have a business degree and cannot discuss the economic valuation of Facebook’s WhatsApp deal, I can say that WhatsApp’s emotional value is through the roof. Maybe I’m biased. My upcoming wedding will be in Paraguay, and I could not have planned it without WhatsApp. My WhatsApp chat groups are divided into the Ayala clan, my immediate O’Neil family, the Ayala women and the main wedding planners (i.e., my amazing mother and aunts). We’ve shared pictures of flowers, cakes and mason jars, and talked each other down when more serious logistics inevitably didn’t go according to plan.


Five years ago, there’s no way I could have stayed in touch with as many family members on such an intimate level. Now, I share my life with more than 50 loved ones, all with the touch of a green icon.

Try putting a price on that.

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