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Dispatches From Mexico City: What’s Your WhatsApp? How We Treat Technology Differently

Author: Ty Trumbull
Author: Ty Trumbull

The first time I heard of WhatsApp it wasn’t in a positive way. I was working as a lineup editor at a Toronto news radio station when a story came across the wire about a terrorist attack. The details are sketchy in my memory, but I do remember that the perpetrators of the attack sent photographic evidence of their crime over something called WhatsApp. Thanks to its end-to-end encryption, the photos were untraceable. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Fast forward three or four years and I’m now living in Mexico City. We had been here less than a week when I heard about the app again.

“What’s your WhatsApp?” everyone would ask.

“Huh?” I would inevitably reply. I thought it was just a tool used by the nefarious members of society, not the lawyers and landlords I was talking to at the time.

Looking back now, I can only laugh at my naivete. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world, ubiquitous in 109 countries. That’s 55.6 percent of the world. People more in-the-know than I can espouse at length on what has made the service so popular. All I know is that, here in Mexico, it’s nearly impossible to get by without it. The only people I actually call using the phone function these days are my parents back in Canada. I contact everyone else through WhatsApp.

The value in the app has been apparent for at least a couple years. The platform was purchased by Facebook (whose Messenger app is the second most popular messaging app in the world) in 2014 for approximately $19.3 billion.

Taking Advantage Of The Situation

But here in Mexico, you can find some people using the app in ingenious ways. There’s one man who makes delicious Indian food (a scarce commodity in this country) in his home and delivers it twice a week. His only tool is WhatsApp. Because the service is free if you’re connected to WiFi, landlords will advertise their WhatsApp numbers rather than landlines. As a musician, almost all of my bookings are done using WhatsApp these days.

Meanwhile, back home in Canada, almost none of my friends use the app. The only ones that do are the types that travel the world regularly. When I go home and ask them about it I’m met with inquisitive stares.

It’s interesting to me how people use technology differently. With more companies than ever pushing into Mexico to take advantage of its burgeoning tech boom, it will be interesting to see how they deal with these differences.

Anyway, if you plan on visiting Mexico anytime soon, make sure you download WhatsApp first. It’ll save you some headaches.

Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday, he offers views about his adopted hometown.