30 June, 2006

Letters versus otherwise

Whatever happened to the good old long letter?
Emails have ceased to excite. (In fact, there is little in life that still does. Or maybe it is just me. Anyway, that is a whole new post for sure).

How I remember when checking email was a daily ritual... Sitting in front of a mono 14" monitor, loggin on into the linux student account, checking email on PINE was almost as exciting as anything else. (PINE stands for Program for Internet News and Email aka Pine Is Not ELM - I miss recursive abbreviations! This also begs the question – WTF is ELM? ELectronic Mail?)

Even though emails directed my way were less than one day, the login screen still filled the heart with a sense of anticipation. It was the screen at the end of a carefully planned journey – the expected number of people versus the number of computers working at any point of time in the computer centre and so on. Anyway, the struggle was ok as the emails made it worth my while.

They were nice. They were not mindless. Not all of them. They were for a purpose. They were not conversation snippets. They were letters.

I remember a few of them from then* even now- Letters from a friend telling me about her breakup and the days after and long replies peppered with attempts at humour. Letters narrating first experiences in all kinds of things. Letters from foreign cousins who were thrilled that they could keep a finger on the latest in families back home through this cost effective source and much faster. Well, people were not too choosy back then. Email was a happy compromise between letters and telephone calls – almost live like a phone call and cheaper than a letter.

This was when I had this particular friend I used to write to almost every day. She was my pen friend, in an email sense. I had not met her and I am not sure how we got in touch. She was from a large city and had lots of friends – I wonder how she got the time to write to me. It went on for just under two years – we exchanged pics and treated each other to “letters” also – back in those days, if blogs existed, I am sure I would have written a similar entry cursing emails and praising letters (Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis – Latin for times change and we change with them). Hmm… wonder what she is up to these days? We grew out of it – actually she did and she let me know and I had no option. :-] I was not willing to invest that much time into it again, and overall, I had a check against the pen-pal row… She used to write wonderful letters. In fact, in the beginning, I had a sneaking suspicion that she did not exist and was a creation of my friends in college as she used to sound too similar to me. Gradually, I ruled out all my friends and then we used to talk on the phone and it was definitely not one of my friends.

Then, there was a time when everyone I know who was not studying engineering was taking post grad tests and writing SOPs and mapping their life out. Every week marked yet another twist in the long road of tests and more tests, and all such turns were duly relayed by email. Soon, we were taking our own placement tests and interviews.

I guess the mobile phone killed the email which had killed the letter. In the beginning, it was the SMS. Text messages became longer and emails became shorter. Later, talk rates crashed for both national and international dialing. It was easier to call or text than email. I guess with emails, one wrote only when one had a few things to say. With the mobile, such things were relayed as and when they were formed. There is little or no time for any kind of a 'thought' inventory to form – which might be a good or a bad thing. I think it is a bad thing – but that’s only me.

I guess this was all part of the big changes in technology and media which we have seen over the years. The audience has shrunk and is now an active part of creating the content also. Blogs for example. In fact, take a look at this, which is like a newspaper operating entirely with no paid reporter.

The other thing – we grew up and suddenly had less time to do anything – even though all we do now is one job, which is also something which sucks.

[* This was the time India was taking its first steps in public internet access. Student access was cheap but anyone who had seen the normal internet craved for that. Corporate internet ids were shared and used - it was the Wild West as far the internet was concerned. Passwords were hacked and accounts were bankrupted of their access. I can think up of many people who did not pay for years and years of internet access – all TCP/IP of course. TCP/IP was the name given to the browser based internet access, which was for Rs. 15000 for 500 hours]

Then there was the 24th of November 2000 thingie :) but that is not for this blog.

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