Monday, 25 April 2011

The dying art of writing letters ... and other not-so-nice aspects of technology

When I first travelled away from home ... all the way from the Eastern corner of India to the western-most part by train on which I travelled for 50 hours in not the most comfortable of conditions, I had enough fodder to write home about that filled 12 foolscap pages. I'm sure that kids today are not even aware of something called foolscap paper. They only know of paper sizes in terms of A4, A3, letter etc. Today all we receive by mail are bills and other unwanted stuff, which in e-mail parlance can be termed as “Junk mail”.

There was a time when, in our family & in most other Bengali families too, it was customary to write letters to elders after the Durga puja and the Bengali New Year. This is a time when we are actually supposed to meet our elders, touch their feet & take their blessings. As the families became more geographically dispersed, meeting physically became quite impossible and we started writing letters to pay our respects to our elders. Gradually, as telephones became more popular and STD/ISD rates started falling, we started paying our respects over the phone instead of writing letters. It is true that the telephone does score over a letter since here you can carry out a conversation instead of writing a one-sided account of your life and then wait for two weeks or more, depending on the whims of the postal service, to hear the other persons account of his/her life. However, I still do sometimes miss those long letters from friends and family telling about all that is happening in their life. Let alone snail mail, even the e-mails that we receive from friends these days are mostly forwarded messages and rarely a personal letter. Sigh !!!

I wonder, do they teach letter-writing in school these days ?

There was a time when our house would fill up with birthday & Christmas / New Year cards. I still have loads n loads of those cards at home and retain them as precious memories. Today most of what I receive and also send are free e-cards. Thanks to my mother and aunt, I'm still lucky enough to receive a few real cards. Sometimes we don't even send a card, instead we wish friends on their “Wall” or send them a “Scrap”.

The other day I was talking (over the phone) to my uncle & he asked me if I could send him a picture of my son and to make me understand he added “... I mean, on paper”. :) He had to add this because I do post pictures of my son on some social networking sites and upload digital photo albums and send them across but here was a person of the older generation who wasn't really comfortable to browse through pictures on the computer. Today, all our memories are digital. We carry digital cameras where we can take 1000s of photos and can erase them at one go too, if we so desire. So, we no longer take prints. Maybe that's a way in which we save the environment ... not wasting paper & thereby saving trees and also reduce clutter around the house. However, makes me feel like we are losing out on precious memories too. Well...

The advent of numerous popular social networking sites have helped us to get connected with long lost friends and keep in touch with everyone ... whether we want to or not. Like a recent forwarded mail stated that out of the people who contact you on these networking sites about 1% are actual friends, the rest comprising of school / college / work place acquaintances whom you actually hate.

The youth of this generation are totally tech-savvy. They change their cell phones, i-pods, tablets and what-nots faster than they change their clothes. I hear that people also break-up relationships by texting these days !!! That's a total blasphemy !!!

All this and more, sometimes makes me wonder ... is technology making us too impersonal ? Is the human-ness going out of human beings ? Maybe we'll soon be replaced by robots programmed to think. Or, maybe like in style trends, the old-fashioned will once again become fashionable and we'll be back to writing letters, meeting friends face-to-face instead of on facebook and keep memories stored in real albums instead of on digital albums.

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