Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
It takes very little time for children to grow up and even less time for sensible adults to turn into kids. The food would lie there ignored, the rest of the world forgotten till the mother had read through the son’s letter at least eleven times, and been assured well enough that the hostel served edible food. Till the wife had heard from her army officer husband that he’d be home for the holidays. Till the precious interview call had been confirmed. Till life finally seemed to straighten itself up.
I think there is something about the tangible that assures one all will be well. Even today, the idea of the abstract seems alien and distant. I’d want to see and feel it before I believe it. A critical cultural theory in fact states that seeing preceded recognition. I would place my bet on the written, readable word. Call me narrow minded and inhibited but I can broaden my horizons only so far. Which is why a letter from your loved one always put things right. It brought him to you with itself and allowed you the liberty and joy of knowing he’d always care.
What’s interesting is that people our age are at a fascinating advantage of experience. We might be Internet freaks today but we’ve also grown up watching communication evolve. We’ve sent letters and been through the drill of waiting, watching and then waiting some more. Our roots lie in the rudimentary stages of the communication revolution when every little step was a chore.
Before coming to college, a couple of friends promised to write to me regularly. We decided to find time and pen down all the good, bad and ugly stuff that happened during the week or at least the fortnight. Needless to say, with texting each other half the day and spending the other half stalking each other’s profiles, there wasn’t much left to say. We knew everything from whose hostel mates were noisy to what the cafe provided for lunch. Which I think is great because I know for a fact I would have never been able to keep up with the letter writing business. Not just because I’m lazy but because I need instant replies. The enthusiasm would’ve flown well out of the window by the time the letter arrived.
Am I unimaginative and unromantic? Absolutely. But like most others, it’s true that I seek instant communication. There is no way I can survive two days without knowing what my friends or family are up to. So, while in one sense, I’m callous, in yet another, I’m emotional and rooted. Like we all are.
Communication today binds us to a strange dichotomy. It’s brought us closer but also pulled us apart. A mother’s joy of receiving a letter from her son studying abroad was and will always be unparalleled. A trunk call on a birthday was probably dearer than any I pad. Yet we seem to know each other better now. We talk more despite our busy schedules and all the work on hand. It’s possible because technology has made it so convenient.
The communication revolution fascinates me. It makes me believe in the power of change and in the power of stability. The letters, telegrams and postcards were our earliest experiments. STD calls and landlines ( now which seem so alien; I can’t remember the last time I received a call on mine) added to the mystical joy of suddenly being able to know and do more. I remember getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night to talk to cousins in different cities when the rates would be low. And text messages, I think are probably mankind’s greatest discovery after fire and food. Convenient and precise, yet allowing you to carry on the most in depth of conversations, I know for a fact I’m addicted. And I’m sure most of us are.
Now before the world and its favourite romanticists brand me insensitive and a victim of the commercialisation model, I add that I do care immensely for the worth of old charm. I know some things never change. And along with my cellphone and its illimitable content, some of my most valued possessions are the cards and letters I’ve received on birthdays and farewells. They’ve brought with them my friends and their love. I’m always struck by how they’d have written it with all their heart. The thrill of waiting for a phone call from a family member who’s away was and shall always overpower the beep of a text message or a Facebook wall post.
But like communication itself, I believe change is good for our relationships. I’m sure the mother would prefer a quick phone call from the son telling her he’s okay after the 9/11 attacks than waiting for a letter that ‘reminds’ her of him. So as fond as we shall always remain of the old, let us not condemn the new. And as addicted as we (read me) are to the new, let us take a little time out to rediscover the old.
The point is not what we’re losing but what we’re willing to give up. What is a priority and what is convenient. Like always, let’s stop blaming the idea of change. The tangible doesn’t always have to be equated with the real. Love is real, so are affection and the fact that someone cares. The measure of which, the media doesn’t have to decide.