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Ruminating over old IMs

CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - NOVEMBER 14th, 2016: Hands using Iphone7 Plus jet black color with icons of social media on screen in coffee shop with latte art, smartphone life style, smartphone era, smartphone in everyday life  

My old smartphone alerted me to its dwindling storage space as WhatsApp and its undeleted messages occupied two-thirds of the memory. Deciding to delete old chats, I chanced upon conversations from four or five years ago. Those texts were from happier and sad times and when I could have dealt with conversations with more maturity.

I realised a new kind of reminiscence fast emerging — one that can only be viewed and eludes other senses. Instant messages (IM) lack the fragrance of that old teakwood cupboard at grandma’s place or the musty smell of grandpa’s books. They are not like the photo album with a layer of dust waiting to be wiped off and held. Nor do they sound like the souvenir tin of chocolates emptied with our best mates long ago and now carrying a few pins, clips, and cheap jewellery. Old chats from a couple of years ago lack “antiquity”, but they hold special value because they serve as a reflection of who we were and where we were headed as a social animal.

Texts make us question our past selves. We could cringe at that emoji we sent to an arrogant show-off. Or we could be humbled by a heartfelt note of appreciation for a petty service. Old chats serve as a testimony to our life’s path, the direction it has taken through the choices we made.

The era of letters, or snail mail, basks in unique glory. People were aware of another’s reality on a longer time scale — a reality that changed slowly and shared many common elements with our own. In an era when a sender knew about a receiver’s culture and attitudes, minds hardly stressed about reactions. What made a letter cherished is the effort of putting pen to paper, portraying sparks of imagination even while being fully present in one’s own reality, excitement of sliding it in a letter box and surprising the reader on delivery. The accompanying wait and enthusiasm to receive it enriched the entire experience of communication.

Immediate reality

The IM scenario is starkly different. For one, we do not know the immediate reality of the receiver to expect instant gratification. Unmet expectations naturally build tensions and anxiety. Bombarded with a cacophony of opinions, emotions and updates 24x7, IM is enough reason for a burnout.

The idea of IM apps was to connect people and bring them closer. In contrast, we are socially disconnected from the people around us. By creating personal micro-cultures, we have chosen to seek comfort and a sense of identity on the other side of the screen by disregarding their personal reality.

True connection lies in our decision to send a heart-warming note rather than a meaningless forward to our dear ones. It lies in our decision to inform our peers we need time off to pick up our pieces rather than block them curtly without answering their concerns. It also lies in our decision to call and talk about our emotions rather than text them.

Why did we start fearing calls that can put our mind at ease in an instant rather than wait for a text? Because the other side is busy or to avoid confrontation? Or maybe, we fear embarrassing our vulnerable selves in person to be deluded by the idea that texts provide a safer outlet? The most difficult conversations that happen over texts leave both parties in despair because of misinterpretation. The question now is, are texts overwhelming us? What we choose to do between ignoring, delaying our response or instantly responding is how we break or build connections. If there’s one reason why people overthink before connecting via IM, it is the pressure to come across as being politically right, and convey their message without misinterpretation.

darshyazh@gmail.com

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 4:33:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/ruminating-over-old-ims/article32820052.ece

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