Alcohol fumes. Binary code. Computers that identify liars. Welcome to the ABC of communication...

The queues at the hospitals and dispensaries were unending. The morgue was contemplating two-seater accommodation to fit in all the new arrivals. Classes that taught breathing techniques were huffing and puffing, trying to control the crowds.

The reason was simple — email apnoea. In other words, people simply forgot to breathe when they were keying in emails. The mother of all apnoeas — sleep apnoea — helps strangle the body’s oxygen supply so that it can come out of its restful state and fight any imminent danger. But why email apnoea? Was it technology’s way of getting you out of your reverie so that you didn’t send any objectionable mail that you subconsciously typed — much like Gmail’s math problem that you needed to solve to prove that you were not drunk when sending that late night mail?

So, was it better to hyperventilate than to vent online? This question led the social activists - fighting for human rights - and the social media activists, who demanded a better communication system, to protest, claiming that e-mail was killing people. Soon the hunt for an alternate mode of staying in touch took epic proportions. Then came the nerds. “Why can’t we simply stick to SMS, IM or social media?” they demanded. “Aren’t these the most common communication platforms today?” The geeks however, outsmarted them with a new research, stating that a computer had figured out how to spot a liar through digital messages - he was the one who was taking longer than the rest to respond.

“Since most users assume an alternative identity or create a fake profile, it’s very easy to be misled - that makes it imperative to come up with a better system,” they claimed. As soon as the research emerged, the deceptive kinds joined in the search as well, as they didn’t want to be identified and thereby lose their edge in life. (“Apparently, 54 per cent of all lies can be detected by humans, but what’s to tell how long we can be safe in that 46 per cent zone?”)

Finally, two researchers decided to drown their sorrows in vodka, and in a flash, figured out that they could use the spirit to send text messages. (Nope, they were not drunk.) It was a case of sending the message in spurts and demodulating the same at the other end. Alcohol molecules were sent across a distance in binary code, so their presence would indicate ‘one’ and their absence, zero. In scientific terms, it was the world’s first text message created and transmitted using molecular communication, but in pure tech terms, it was a vodka-soaked sms, which was much to cheer about.

“Big deal! We’ve always been obsessed about the birds and the bees, so what’s different now?” claimed the critics. Apparently, certain species of seabirds and bees had also been using similar communication techniques. Besides, the concept of sending alcohol vapours in spurts to communicate a message was a lot like the smoke signals used by Red Indians, which enabled them to make a point even across large distances.

Something new had to be done. It looked like technology was not really on the money when it came to facilitating effective communication. The new system had to be robust, be free of any health hazard, not involve alcoholic spirits (why waste good liquor?) and shouldn’t have been practised by birds and animals before.

Finally a little boy spotted an empty bottle rolling around aimlessly. It was the same one that had held the vodka used for the text message experiment. ‘Perhaps this will help,’ thought the boy as he wrote a little note, asking the recipient of the message to suggest a new way of communication. He then rolled the note, shoved it into the bottle, closed it and threw it into the sea.

And that is how the ‘message in a bottle’ came to be.

sureshl.india@gmail.com

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