Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I love you too?

I was thumbing through the menu of my new phone and familiarizing myself with all the lovely features that I was convinced I couldn’t do without (1 hour video recording, 512 MB removable memory, visual radio etc.) but which I knew I would seldom use. That’s when I spotted the little gem tucked away in the Message template.

Among the ready-to-use messages such as I’m in a meeting, call later and I am late, I will be arriving at _ , was this one – I love you too.

Right. Now we need technology to prompt our instinctive responses, personal responses. As if it isn’t enough that the cell phone has become an appendage of the human body, that we now need it to preprogram our feelings and have them ready-to-use when the need arises.

Apart from I love you too, there are other common expressions that ought to come pre-programmed into phones to save our thumbs the needless wear and tear. For instance:

‘You’re fired’

‘We need to talk’

‘I do’
(Didn’t a couple recently exchange vows on the cell phone because the groom was stuck in traffic?)

‘Let’s just be friends.’

‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?’

In effect, pre-programming takes over from where text messages left off.

When I left my previous phone back home for my parents, I thought happily that we could stay in touch more often through text messages. It’s more immediate than email and less expensive than phone calls, I told myself. Despite exchanging text messages almost daily, my mum writes plaintively, ‘Why are you quiet? Keep in touch more often.’

There’s something reassuring about the fact that I am connected to all my friends back in Bombay, even those across the world, through a quick text message. In less than 160 characters, I can get a quick update on a close friend’s life – ‘Hey so nice 2 hear frm you. Life’s good, work hectic, love life almost non-existent. Hw r u’. A leisurely half-hour conversation now in a bite-size morsel, that fails to satiate.

There’s a faux sense of connectedness, of conversation, and in some cases of a language even (m gr8, hw r u). The convenience aspect of text message quickly crosses over into the area usually reserved for the real effort required in maintaining relationships.

Why bother to call and wish someone when you can type out a ‘Happy birthday’ (Hapy bday 2 u!) or ‘Happy anniversary’ message (Hapy nvrsy 2 u!) Does that sound a tad impersonal? No problem, ‘Insert Smiley’ and you have infused your message with warmth and emotion :-D

Having ranted that, let me clarify I’m not anti-text messages myself. (The calluses on my thumb will testify to that.) They’re a quick and expedient way to touch base with people but no substitute for conversation. They’re also an effective antidote for boredom especially during one of those interminable meetings. And in some cases, they’re an unintentional source of mirth.

My parents had a tough time figuring out the features of their ‘new cell phone’, but it seemed like they had managed to befriend technology after all. Or so I thought. I used my uncle’s old phone for a few days until I bought a new handset. The first thing I did was to send a text message to my parents, ‘Finally bought my new phone!’

Prompt came the reply, ‘So what’s your new number?’

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