The lost art of conversation and letter-writing
Spring-cleaning in my house usually is undertaken not by design but by accident. Usually it starts with me searching for something, and as the scope of the search expands, untouched corners, cupboards and cabinets get explored and cleaned. One such session revealed a long forgotten bundle of cards and letters, tied up neatly, and it lay hidden, as gems do waiting to be discovered or in this case rediscovered.
As I opened the string, a wave of nostalgia hit me, memories spanning a few decades were in my hands. I went through the birthday cards sent by friends and cousins, my parents’ first letter to me once I moved away after marriage, letters exchanged between my husband and me. As I reminisced while holding on to one such letter, feeling its creases between my fingers, it dawned on me that perhaps this is a feeling my kids would be deprived of.
We live in a world where instant communication is at our fingertips. We also have multiple options to communicate both on one-to-one basis as well as to a larger audience. At the press of a button or the click of a mouse, our message can be carried across secure, encrypted passageways to our intended audience via e-mail, phone, text, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat and many more such. While this “new-world” technology has provided wondrous ways to communicate, it has, I feel, snatched away from the millennials two wonderful arts — the art of conversation and that of letter-writing.
Increasingly, conversation is being replaced by communication through different media. You put a smartphone in the hands of a teenager and the fingers will fly across the keyboard, electronically chatting away while also uploading photos on Facebook and downloading music from iTunes. You put two teenagers in a room and ask them to talk to each other, and they will be lost for words. And no sooner than you step out of the room they will reach out for the joystick of the PS4 or perhaps their phones.
Even adults are not much different. Wherever possible we use e-mail or text to get in touch rather than a phone call. Invitations to dinner are sent on WhatsApp.
Wedding anniversary and birthday wishes are sent through Facebook and WhatsApp; even condolences are conveyed electronically. I am not the “good ol’ days” type of person, and I agree that genuinely there are some benefits these new communication tools have given us. I have been able to reconnect with long-lost friends and relatives. However, I do miss browsing cards lined neatly on shelves, the funny ones, those with romantic verses and even the get-well-soon cards, just reading them for the fun of it before selecting the right one.
I do not yearn for the days of trunk calls to come back (with the telephone operator announcing in the middle of the conversation the time limit), or the telegram for that matter. But it’s sometimes good to hear a human voice at the other end of the phone when you receive an invitation or when someone RSVPs or calls to simply check on you. The card or the letter that came through post reflected the time spent and effort undertaken by somebody who cared. By the way, if you google “telegram”, the first result tells you it is a cloud-based instant messaging and VoIP service.
Fan mail has been replaced by interaction on Twitter and Instagram. Growing up, if we wanted to write to one of our idols we actually wrote letters using a pen on paper. The joy I felt as a 13-year-old when I got a letter personally written by one of my sporting idols, is still fresh in my memory. It’s not simply about writing letters but even putting pen on paper.
For the current generation, it seems to be a novelty. Cambridge University was set to scrap written examinations because students’ handwriting had become so bad, a newspaper report said last year. I believe that summed it up.
Family get-togethers during summer holidays were about staying up late in the night sipping tea and just chatting away till the early hours. The young ones spent the daytime outside playing cricket, hide and seek or just running about. We still stay up late in the night, but each person sits with a gadget in her or his hand. The children will typically have headphones plugged into their ears for good measure. Daytime is also not much different and the kids still play — but usually on a laptop or a phone. While travelling, gone are the days when strangers would strike up a conversation, bound together by a common destination. Now the most we can hope for is a fleeting connection when our eyes meet, and then we go back to our solitude, often engrossed in our devices. With headphones on our ears and fingers on the keyboard we have established communication channels that we can choose to open and close at our convenience. We don’t need to engage in a dialogue when we do not wish to; we can block, unfriend, reconnect, lay bare our emotions, make new friends, all with a click of the button and without uttering a word.
I would wager that if we were to do a research on the vocabulary usage of the younger generation, we would find that “traditional” words have been replaced by texting abbreviations and Internet acronyms.
The irony is that even as I lament the fading away of these two great arts, I have shifted from writing on a notebook (the one which has papers in it) to a laptop (it is convenient, I have to admit). Technology, it seems, has made us lazy as well.