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  Opinion   Columnists  30 Oct 2021  Kulbir Kaur | Has instant messaging killed communication?

Kulbir Kaur | Has instant messaging killed communication?

Kulbir Kaur teaches sociology at Shyama Prasad Mukherji College, Delhi University
Published : Oct 31, 2021, 2:23 am IST
Updated : Oct 31, 2021, 2:23 am IST

Call it the age factor, but I so long for those simple, slow paced days

We gathered around the instrument and gazed at it intently as family members look at a newborn baby. Representational Image. (AP)
 We gathered around the instrument and gazed at it intently as family members look at a newborn baby. Representational Image. (AP)

Words are so weird! When they will appear and in what avatar one can never predict! Who can anticipate that a group of regular, chatty people can impose upon oneself what can only be described as a gentle form of “chaat”?

The very word, “chat”, too, reminds me of “chaat”. Not our famous “Dilliwali chatpati chaat”, those savoury appetisers sold on the streets of Delhi, but the product of those who love to do bakbak nonstop. These were born with a boon — to talk, without purpose, nor meaning. They were probably on Oscar Wilde’s mind when he said, “some people spread happiness wherever they go and some when they go”.

But now there is no need for these garrulous people to be present on the scene of their crime. They can share their invaluable “pravachan” (sermon) anywhere, anytime, thanks to technology, i.e., the mobile phones about ready to gulp us. These, armed with WhatsApp, Facebook (now Meta), Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, have invaded our lives. The thinking species of the earth is on the verge of extinction.

Call it the age factor, but I so long for those simple, slow paced days. It was a time when the mail was not electronic but paper, delivered by a postman who shared a bond with us, especially in rural and remote areas. The letters would arrive in different shapes, colours and sizes. Sometimes, it was a blue inland or a yellow postcard and sometimes it came in a white envelope with a colourful stamp on it. Who had written it? What was written on it? The pleasure of opening the envelope must have been no less than that of opening a magic box. The uniform and artificial informality of the WhatsApp message which announces in advance who has written what message (how boring!) can never compete with the feeling of eagerly awaiting a letter.

I remember once I had casually mentioned to my sister that nobody writes a letter to me. How could I get a letter and who would write it? Just imagine studying in Class VIII with all your friends from the same school and staying in the same neighbourhood, at walking distance from one another. One day, though, the miracle happened. I had just returned from school when the doorbell rang. Not only the house but the entire mohalla, though, knew that it was the time the postman visited us. Lo and behold! A square pink envelope with the world's most beautiful words, “Kulbir Kaur”, written on it was hurriedly handed over to me by the daakia babu. My heart was beating fast and, with trembling hands, I opened my very first letter — a birthday greeting card sent to me by my sister. It remains the most valuable possession of my life.

The advent of the telephone certainly affected the practice of exchanging letters. But its impact was partial. One reason was, it was still a rare object seen in a handful of houses. As soon as a neighbour got a phone installed, within no time the number would be shared with friends, relatives, the college registrar, office colleagues and so on. And the neighbours, may God bless them, were such good-natured persons that, even during a hot summer afternoon, they would inform you, eyes heavy from sleep, “There is a call from the Patel Nagarwali aunty!”

The day came when we had our own telephone. There it lay on a table as dead as a dodo bird. No tring tring, no dial tone! We gathered around the instrument and gazed at it intently as family members look at a newborn baby. One week went by and then another, but still no sound emerged!

Linesmen, a very important and highly sought-after category of people, had a fixed time to visit our colony. The linesman whose job it was to visit ours would come on a daily basis, as most of the phones here remained out of order. My father called him over and said, in a very serious tone, “I had brought an Old Monk bottle thinking I would gift it to you when the phone starts but…” He did not complete the sentence. Within half an hour, the sound of the phone filled the house.

In early days, as soon as the phone rang, we, sisters and brothers, would run to answer it, anticipating the adventure of talking to a stranger, or even a known caller. But a day came when the phone would tire itself out ringing while all of us argued over who would take the call. “It’s your turn,” one said. “No, yours,” said the other. It was not that the charm of the telephone had faded. The problem was connected to a habit of my father. He had taken to calling home from his office and enquiring after each person’s activity, checking to see if we were studying our lessons, especially during school vacations.

For lovers, the old dialling model was no doubt a blessing. Dial a number, and start praying that she or he should answer the call, and not mummy-papa. Your identity would remain a secret. You could always say, “Sorry, wrong number”, and disconnect the call. Those silent moments when the desired person was on the other side of the phone line and you would just listen to their voice were absolutely priceless. It was hidden love or chilmanwala pyaar!

That’s a far cry from today when every emotion of every individual is out in the open. Our ideas, our sorrows, our spite, our vacations, or our hatred, even whether we are single or seeing someone — all are on display. Thanks to the GPS, our mobiles are the dog collars we wear, monitoring our every move, our very presence. There is no escape. We are living in the see-all, tell-all age. Connected, yet ultimately distanced from people. The Net is the trap that has devoured us all.

Tags: instant messaging