Where are the Good Old Times?

by S. Sathappan

[box]The internet has no doubt ushered in a whole new change in our lives, convenience and connectivity being just some of the dimensions. However, even as new has replaced old, Sathappan feels what the internet has also done is to take away human emotions and connection out of the equation. Read on.[/box]

The internet has changed our lives beyond our imagination… Well, that probably is the understatement of the century. It has removed middle men and put information in people’s hands. If not for the internet, I don’t know how else you can empower individuals. The internet has enabled people to decide what they want to do and has given them tools to achieve their goals. What centuries of governments couldn’t do has at least been made possible in a few decades, thanks to the internet.

The internet has done much more – it has brought us closer to people living thousands of miles away. It is so easy to stay in touch with loved ones living in different countries, see them on video chat everyday, and get updates on their everyday lives within minutes. It has been a platform for many talented people to showcase their talents to a global audience, breaking any language barriers. It has made human effort easier – YouTube is a treasure trove of information and how-to videos. Wikipedia is how 90% of school science projects get done these days.

New always replaces old. Most often, new is good; new is efficient; new saves time and takes humanity to a newer level. Technology has done just that, and will continue to do so for years to come. Email replaced snail mail. Facebook is now starting to replace email. SMS introduced a new way of communication. Whatsapp is now replacing SMS. Chat rooms were the craze at the turn of the new millennium. But they are now being replaced by Facebook. I am sure something new will come along to replace Facebook. And then something else will come along to replace that. Every change will bring about convenience and efficiency to our lives. Every change will organise and sort and arrange and to some extent decide our lives.

However, as with any kind of technology, there are downsides to the internet too. I believe that our ‘online life’ is depriving us of an actual life: it has reduced the human connection, the human touch. When we buy tickets, we don’t chit chat about the weather with the ticket salesman. We don’t make new friends while queuing up to pay the electricity bill. The internet was designed to make us independent by making information readily available whenever we wanted it – buying a new car, learning a new language, or renting an apartment has been made so much easier because of the shared knowledge enabled by user reviews submitted online by thousands.  But I am afraid it has made us more independent than we had initially envisioned. There is a fine line between being independent and being detached.

For instance, I do miss writing letters. No amount of emails can replace what a single heartfelt, handwritten letter can communicate. For a large part of my childhood, my grandfather lived in Malaysia. I used to regularly write to him when I was a kid. My postcard usually took two weeks to reach Malaysia and his reply took another two weeks. I used to ask him about his life and what things were like in Malaysia. When I read those postcards today, my questions look silly. But my grandfather always promptly answered my questions. He knew I loved aeroplanes, so every postcard he sent me had a different picture of an aeroplane on the back. And he knew I collected stamps. So he ensured he used a different stamp on each of his letters. I still have all those postcards and those stamps, and they mean so much to me today. They represent something much bigger than the content in them – they demonstrate the bond between individuals in a tangible way, through something the person engaged in with her or his own hands and one that you can hold. My grandfather passed away last year, and when the family was going through his stuff before locking them away forever, they found a few letters and photographs in his old suitcase. My mom later told me there were a few post cards in them which I had sent to him when I was a kid. I am usually not emotional, but I couldn’t stop shedding a tear when I heard that. I wonder how the internet would give me such a memory to hold precious.

There is something else from my childhood that I miss terribly. Back then, before the email revolution, we used to buy greeting cards to send to every relative for various occasions. My mom always made me and my younger brother sign the greeting cards. We also used to receive greeting cards for Deepavali, Pongal and birthdays, and I used to save them up. Those greeting cards always contained lines that I would now consider cheesy, all in the name of a poem, and my favourites were the ones written for Pongal, because they were in Tamil and were for some reason even funnier. I used to love it when I would open a greeting card and a 10 rupee note fell out. As a kid, there was no better birthday gift than that. Some cards played a song when you opened them, and some others unravelled into 3D structures when you opened them. As a kid, I would try so hard to decipher how a tall 3D building or an animal went inside a tiny little greeting card when I closed it. I remember spending hours, tilting my head and looking at the greeting card sideways, trying to find out where the animal went. I am sure there are others like me!

To this day, I would definitely like to receive a handwritten letter or a greeting card once in a while. I want to know that, at times, people take the pains to do something for you. Opening up your laptop and drafting a happy birthday email is still nice and thoughtful, but it’s not the same as going to a store and picking a greeting card and adding an extra line or two to the printed verse and mailing it a few days in advance so that you receive the post just on time – for receiving the card on time almost made all the difference!

Maybe I am just one of those people who find change difficult. Sometimes, when new replaces the old, the mind tends to miss what you had and reminisce the good old times. Maybe I miss the old letters and greeting cards because they remind me of my childhood. But let’s face it: technology has indeed in many ways removed the human connection and emotion out of the equation. It is tough to convey a sincere apology or genuine happiness over emails and Facebook comments. I feel it always ends up looking very impersonal. While I am still grateful for what my phone can do in terms of connecting me to a whole other world, I still miss the good old times. I am sure I am not alone.

Sathappan is an engineering graduate from NUS, Singapore. He is an investment banker by profession and a techie by passion. He loves books, movies, AR Rahman’s music and travelling. He is also an ardent fan of old Tamil poems and Tamil history books. Originally from a small little town in Tamil Nadu, he currently resides in Singapore.

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  1. Hi Sathappan

    Your article brought back some memories for me too. I used to write alot of letters to Pam when we left Primary School and had to attend different Secondary Schools. I still have all the letters but I wish I can see the letters I wrote to Pam too. Haha.

    So sorry to hear about your grandfather. Your letters and postcards must have brought him a lot of joy.

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