Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Life in IM yuga

It's eons since we last wrote a letter, took the pains to go to the post office, buy stamps, stick them, and post it. Email is the order of day, or that's what we thought. But when I heard this confession of my friend -- "I don't send long mails to anyone. I either sms or IM or call" -- I wondered if humankind had turned another corner.

I checked my email’s “send folder”, and was surprised to find that in the past six months, there were just 4 long emails I had sent -- 3 of them to my cousin (who is abroad, and not on chat) and another to my friend (who is mostly available on chat). The rest of the emails were official correspondence or forwards or greetings; none of the personal mails were more than three or four paras long. Mails -- the snail variety or the email -- were, once upon a time, ran into a couple of pages.

Communication has become not just easier but shorter. With a variety of ways to share messages, there’s a feeling in the back of our minds that all our friends are just a phone call or an email away. Their proximity, virtual though, is taken for granted. No one has ever gone away; they are around, as blobs on the chat list. Lost threads of conversations are picked up and carried on effortlessly, many months, and even years later; as if there never was a break.

There’s no going down the memory lane, trying to bridge the passage of time. There’s no catching up with each other’s lives, simply because there’s so much of our lives on display on social networking sites -- career changes and holiday visits; even family alliances and visits of stork. If ever you plead ignorance about them, get ready to be greeted with embarrassing exclamations like, “O, you didn’t know?! You didn’t see my Gmail status message?” Or, “Where were you? I had put up photos on Facebook and there were so many comments!”

In this instant messaging yuga, there are no conversations, no discussions, no perspectives, no contexts. Everything is instant, to the point, to a purpose. Life on the info-bahn is a pause-less cruise bereft of thought process. Patience has worn out. Don’t we all go through this urge to update others or to receive others’ updates?

Life’s progress has now been compressed into a series of status messages and tweets; comments, and more comments. When is the last time we sat down to write a long mail to a friend or relative, long narratives and vivid descriptions, of crests and troughs of our lives?
Last year, when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook’s revamped messaging platform, he famously said, “Email is dead.” Has it, finally? May be we all log into our emails. But what do we end up reading, and what do we send one another?

(This article was published in The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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