We live in the age of instant coffee, instant messaging, Instagram, instant everything. Technology makes everything so much easier—sharing photos from a crazy weekend beach trip, stalking that crush you saw at one party but never got the courage to talk to, or putting up a link to the video of this song that you can’t get out of your head so that your friends can get major LSS, too.
But while Facebook updates us on friends we haven’t seen since high school graduation, technology has somehow trivialized our relationships. I’m not just talking about we’ll-be-together-forever relationships that get “formalized” through relationship status updates, or it’s-complicated-let’s-not-put-a-label-on-it kind of things. I mean any kind of relationship—from the childhood friend you swore would be a bridesmaid at your wedding to the guy who sat behind you in English class and slept through the lectures. Check your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. How many of them do you actually know? Know, not heard some rumor about or maybe was a friend’s date to the prom but you don’t remember. Know, not confirmed because you thought it would be social suicide not to do so. Know, that you would actually, honestly, want to be updated on that person’s life.
See, the thing with technology is that it makes it easy for us to reach out to several people with minimal effort. There are so many vectors. Like their Facebook status. Favorite their tweet. Repost on Tumblr. Leave a comment on Instagram. Etc. Everyone is easily accessible—but are they really? Yes, there are numerous social networking sites that will let you leave sweet little IMYs. But step out of Twitterverse for a second and look around you. At an after-work dinner, I bet your friends have their hands and eyes glued to their smartphones. I bet one of them is laughing by her lonesome, staring at the lit-up screen. Another is probably already announcing to the world, via foodie picture with quintessential filter, that she’s with you and so-and-so at tag-location.
I’m guilty as charged to all of the above. What happened to being in touch with the here and now? What happened to being in the moment? Why the sudden fascination with what everyone else is doing at this instant, never mind that there are actual people physically with you?
Imagine a typical Sunday at a typical restaurant while waiting for your order. Kids with their handheld games and headphones, young adults making the most of “unli” text subscriptions, techies on their iPads and Androids, and not-so-techies staring into space or giving the menu yet another look. Everyone absorbed, alone in their own little world. How ironic is it that the more sociable we want to be online, the more detached we actually become offline?
I miss conversations. Face to face. Over a cup of coffee. Or wine. Or Coke. I miss comfortable silence. The connection that isn’t determined by how strong the signal is from your service provider. The connection between people, not profiles or user names. When you don’t have to say anything to be understood. When you don’t need emoticons to get your message across because that high-pitched giggle, that deep audible sigh, that furrowed brow, or that tear-stained cheek screams what you feel in your heart of hearts. No matter how long we pore over text messages, there is no way to decode the sender’s true thoughts and emotions. There is no substitute for an exchange that happens in real time. Text messages and e-mails get edited and deleted. All it takes is a push of a button. But the words (or lack thereof) that escape our mouths, the timing of our responses, the look in our eyes—they give us away.
I want to express myself in ways only I know how, in ways only those who know me well will be able to grasp, in ways that need not conform to a specific font or character length. I want a smooth exchange of ideas and dreams and passions. I don’t want to wait for my phone to beep or my inbox to register your reply. I don’t want a staggered installment of thoughts in little chat boxes. I don’t want the number of your exclamation points to relay your excitement. I want to hear the tone of your voice, to read the expression in your eyes, to touch your arm or your hand when I need to.
You know what else I miss? Handwritten letters. Stroke upon fluid stroke put together to make a literary masterpiece. Forget the grammar Nazis and stop being so dependent on spellcheck for a bit. Never mind that the tittle—yes, the dot on top of your i—is a bit off center. Never mind that you can’t write in straight lines or that your loops are too loopy. Your handwriting is uniquely yours, like your fingerprints and the secret pet name only your family knows. I believe that handwritten letters are powerful because they are raw. They force you to really think about what you want to say. And the joy of receiving these letters is unlike any other.
No, I don’t want to live in the good old days when sending letters by post was the norm. With other means of communication available, I pose it as a challenge. Is there anyone out there who still believes in handwritten notes? E-mails, Viber and Skype secure the gap in long-distance relationships, and I’m all for that. But what about the rest of us who aren’t oceans apart? There’s something impersonal about receiving letters in standard Times New Roman, 1-inch margins all around the page. Maybe it’s because we know the effort it takes to pick up a pen and let the ink loose on the paper. Maybe because we know it takes more effort to hand over letters in person—awkward hand graze and eye contact included—than to hit send. Effort. Maybe it all boils down to that.
The Internet and fast-evolving gadgets make communication convenient. Is it so wrong to want the inconvenient? Talk to me. In person. Come to my house and let’s have brunch. I won’t tag you in a photo of what I’m cooking one random Saturday. Let me serve you actual French toast and a warm cup of Nescafé. Leave the instant-ness to the coffee. Let’s take our time. Let’s be groggy non-morning people together. We can eat in silence if it’s too early for witty banter. Let’s save that for the afternoon when we’re both energized and laughing at silly things worth laughing about. Let’s take pictures worth developing.
I want a photo of us smiling because we’re happy, not because we want other people to like the photo and think we’re pretty/handsome/cool/insert-how-you-want-to-be-viewed-here.
I want a photo that I can stick on my wall, so that it greets me good morning every day and reminds me of how awesome it was when we did that thing that we swore we’d tell our grandchildren about one day. Or maybe at night we can go on a drive. We don’t have to tell the world where we’re going. Pick a direction. More than the destination, it’s the ride that will matter, anyway. The playlist we will sing along to. The engaging conversation on topics like philosophy, fears you never dared share with anyone, the existence of aliens, chaos and change, and the expanse of the universe.
And the feeling—as Charlie puts it—of being infinite.
Maria Katrina Recto, 22, is a corporate management trainee in sales and marketing at Nestlé Philippines Inc.