Monday, May 15, 2006

Staying in Touch

I've recently finished reading Vikram Seth’s Two Lives. It's a fascinating book. Part memoir, but largely biography, this book is about the tumultuous lives of the author's granduncle and grandaunt. What I like most about the book, apart from the uncomplicated and direct narrative style (which is expected out of Vikram Seth anyway), is the fact that we learn about the two remarkable individuals largely through the letters they exchange with each other and their other friends. While the author was lucky to 'interview' his granduncle and get his side of the story first hand, he had nothing to refer when it came to writing about his grandaunt (not even his granduncle had complete visibility to his wife's pre-marital life). As the author himself observes, this book would never have got written, but for the chance discovery of a set of letters that were very carefully preserved by his grandaunt. And the depth of information we get from that is infinitely more and much richer than what even a first-hand interview could give.

Last week I received an email from a friend. It was quite a general email, but there was one line that is largely responsible for this post. It simply said, 'Hey why don’t you mail me once in a while?'

Vikram Seth's book and my friend's email set me thinking. When was the last time I wrote a letter? If my memory serves me right, that was almost 6 years back. Or an email? Well, I do write emails, albeit very rarely, except when there’s something really important to talk about. In the world of instant messengers and text messages, who has the time to sit back, reflect and write a letter? This is what I call being slaves to technology. It seems that the only ways to connect with people we care about are IMs and SMSes. I must admit that I find them very convenient to stay in touch, but they are really not as 'personal' as a letter, or even an email. There is no place for emotions in these technologies. Technology is supposed to bring us closer, not pull us apart at an emotional level. Email too is technology, but when you sit down to type an email, it's just like writing a letter. You reflect, you collect your thoughts; and, if you've taken the effort to keep all diversions at bay, you can type (or write) exactly what you want to say. That's what I just cannot achieve through an IM. I tend to be very reactive on IMs, primarily due to the conversational nature of the communication and I'm not really a 'conversations' person. Also, I need time to reflect on my thoughts and IM just doesn't give me that luxury. Some of my friends would know that many a time I follow-up an IM conversation with an email, especially when we have talked about something important. Having said this, I admit that I'm just as guilty of depending too much on instant conversations as anybody else.

Take this friend for example. We had been in regular touch earlier, but somehow our interactions 'virtually' ended. Not that we had a fight or something - not at all. Just that our interactions happened only through IMs, and when due to certain compulsions we couldn’t use IMs we completely lost touch. Now, is that an excuse to lose touch with friends?

I hardly use IM these days for reasons I don't want to get into and which, in any case, are not relevant to this post; and that should, in a way, help me stick to what I have decided now. I have decided that from now on I will be more regular in writing to people I care about.

Thank you Mr. Seth, and thank you my dear friend, for making me realize that!