Monday, March 27, 2006

sms-ing 101

“I have lost many friends to death, but I’ve lost most of them due to sheer inability to cross the road.”
I hope I quoted that line correctly, but in any case, you get the gist. I don’t know how things worked during the caveman’s time. I am guessing that the colonies were small and intimate. Everybody lived together. The yearning to meet a friend would come during moments of peace, during rushes of excitement and perhaps most importantly when a lion or tiger wasn’t making you run for your life. These moments might have been rare, but when they came, I suppose all one had to do was look across the cave or a neighbouring cave and there he was -the person to whom you could pour out your heart, with grunts, with growls, with a sense of urgency from which sprang new words, with a sense of intimacy due to which your friend always understood, with a sense of desperation due to which it was made certain that he understood and from there sprang language and protocol. My speculation could be entirely wrong. Feel free to fight me with your swords and mightier pens, but for the sake of getting to a more important point, grant me my wild fantasy.
It took such an effort back then, didn’t it ? Thank god for the digital age, for cell phones, for sms-es, for phonebooks, for well regulated traffic signals, where you can talk while crossing the road, for hands-free mode, where you can talk while getting to somewhere important, and for people like me - generous parents who allow you to keep a cell presumably for emergencies, for greedy mobile companies that want a large customer base, especially the communication-hungry college students, and give them a 100 free sms-es everyday, to always keep in touch with someone.
With phone in hand, with the discovery of the T9 english mode, with a 100 free messages to send, and with ample time during a boring lecture, I can say anything I want, anytime, to anyone. And that’s where the buck stops. With messages that are 160 characters long, there’s no style, there’s no character, there’s nothing that helps me like one person more than the other. We don’t even take time to swear correctly. “Shiv, I’m late, asap" is part of our daily parlance, and I’m left wondering why we aren’t even frustrated enough to brood correctly. There’s something wonderfully therapeutic about swearing properly, enunciating it correctly. But an sms needs to be sent, immediately, my comprehension of that new language is taken for granted, and it comes devoid of proper emotion.
What about nicknames? Any random person can guess my nickname. Start typing my name in the T9 mode, and the first word that comes is my name. It does not require anyone to know who I am, what my quirks are, or who my crush is. It requires them to know my name, and suddenly they call themselves a friend.
My mom sits in her rocking chair, sometimes extremely irate that my phone’s always beeping, secretly happy that there are so many people who want to talk to her precious daughter, and I haven’t the heart to break it to her. I haven’t the heart to tell her, that more often than not, when I jump at my phone, and open the message, all there is a “k”, at the corner of the screen. All there is an alphabet, which I suppose should pass for a complete sentence because it is sometimes followed by a full stop. My mom sits in her rocking chair, secretly happy that the phone bill’s come down, thanking the mobile company for only making her pay Rs 30 a month to satisfy my insatiable need to communicate. I haven’t the heart to tell her that it takes much too much effort to call these days. Because the person I want to call is busy sending sms-es to a dozen people at the same time and that person probably doesn’t care for one person any more than the other. We sms-ers live a stoic world. We say the same thing to everyone. We are told the same thing by everyone. We say it the same way. We’ve reached a consensus that deprives us of any streak of individuality because it’s too much to fit in the space of a 160 characters because there is always, always another 160 characters waiting to be sent.
So, am I one of those people who recognize the sms for what it is? I must admit, and I do that rather shamelessly, that I am a hypocrite. Once in a blue moon, I finish my quota, and even though I know that some of them were just forwards, some of them sent to the wrong person, which meant I sent a few more messages saying sorry to the wrong person, explaining what it meant, or imploring them to forget it, and then sent the message to the right person, followed by another message saying that it was originally sent to the wrong person, followed by a “God! Imagine what would’ve happened if I was telling you about that”, even though I know that I finished my quota due to some unintentional mistakes, I can’t help but feel wanted. Then again, I know at times I stop saying something important simply because my quota gets over, and wait until the next day, when the wish gets re-granted between midnight and 1 am, and then don’t say it.
I suppose we change with time. I suppose there will always be tigers and lions preventing us from saying what we want to say. I suppose there will always be a road full of traffic, and indifference on your part to cross the road and say hi, taking for granted that there will always be another day, when an empty road separates you and your friend. However when you don’t step into the traffic, and take for granted instead, the fact that the vehicles will make way, take for granted instead, your own ability to cope with a few well enunciated swear words emanating from faceless people in the vehicles, friends soon dissolve into acquaintances which is sometimes worse than death. I suppose there will always be a 101st message waiting to be said, and more often than not, its worth saying it before the clock strikes midnight, before the fairy tale disappears, because in today’s increasingly indifferent world, the prince might never ever bother to pick up the glass shoe.

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