Speaking More, Saying Less
An email from my father yesterday forced me to consider how my relationship with him has evolved as a result of changing technologies over the past few years. Having lived outside of India for the last 9 years, I have tried various modes of communication to stay in touch with my parents back home…when I moved to Canada to pursue a graduate degree in 1999, my dad and I exchanged emotionally charged emails where electronic communication was a faster (but seemingly identical) substitute for the painstakingly handwritten letters I used to receive from him growing up, those long missives to his family from his frequent travels abroad. We exchanged nearly a thousand long emails over the course of two years; and weekly phone calls were expensive and treasured, mostly directed to my mother who was out of the “email loop.” Then, during my two years teaching in Indonesia, my parents and I began a little Yahoo! chatting, but phone calls were cheaper, and emails became supplemental, almost peripheral to our communications. I briefly discovered a Bengali emailing site, but it was laborious to use the code, and I soon gave up. Though we were in touch often, the content of our conversations became mostly superficial. Then, in my two years at Chico, phone calls again became forbiddingly expensive, and I was forced to resort to emailing yet again. I didn’t have internet connection at home, so emails became shorter, and there was no chatting with family online. Over the last two years in Berkeley, phone calls have taken center-stage: we talk almost every day without fail, international calling prices have fallen so much. The conversations are brief: did you eat? How is school? How is work? My father every now and then sends a one line-email, more out of habit than anything else, and my responses are equally terse.
Then yesterday, I received a long email from my father. It was an “old-school” email, one that was more like a handwritten letter, and I was gripped with nostalgia. He didn’t just ask how school was; he asked me what courses I was taking. He didn’t just ask how work was, but asked me questions about how I manage my time between school and my two jobs. It astonishes me how, with the ease of communication through evolving and developing technologies, we say less than we could have when it was harder to communicate across oceans that stood between us. As I sat down to respond to his email, I remembered the old days when it took two weeks for my letters to reach my father in the US. How we would all wait impatiently for the mailman to arrive, to see if he had written to us…to see the familiar printed and perfectly shaped handwriting inked across a page. As I stared at the screen, my Gmail reply window opened, I was struck by a shocking thought: with the entry of Skype and cheaper telephonic conversations, I communicate more often. I don’t necessarily communicate more.