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Friendships in 2020

by May 7, 2020

We are so lucky this lockdown has happened in the 21st century. Our kids can do home learning. We can shop online and have things delivered. We can stream endless series and films over Netflix. We can download apps and take up new hobbies (yoga, meditation). And of course, we have so many tools to connect with friends.

However, I can’t help thinking how impersonal things have become over time. WhatsApp messages have replaced phone calls. Birthdays are celebrated on Facebook. And let me admit it straight away: I do this too.

It has grown impersonal over the years

When we were little we had no internet, and not even mobile phones. All my friends were people I had met in real life. The ones who lived far away would become ‘pen pals’. I would write them letters. That took time: to think about what to write, and to actually write it – and maybe re-write it, if I was unhappy with it. The reply would arrive via letter, weeks later. Phone calls were expensive, especially the long distance ones. So, pen and paper.

By the time I was at university, the world had moved on. I had a mobile, and SMS (text messages) were in their infancy. I still remember my phone could only receive 2 messages, after which the memory would become full. The phone would prompt me to delete a text to receive the next one! This seems incredible in the Whatsapp days, when we are bombarded with messages of all kind. Back then I had to make space for a new message, and that wasn’t even needed that often, as not everyone had a mobile phone and anyway each SMS was paid for!

At the same time, the internet had started to emerge. We had computers at the university labs, and with that came email. Now writing was quicker. Online, I met a fellow student living in the US, and we started chatting via email. I only met that person 20 years later!. It was amazing – I would hit ‘send’, and receive a reply in one or two days. From the other side of the world. So cool!

Those emails were long and full of details. In a way, they were like the old letters, just typed on a screen and dispatched quicker. However, they were also a bit less personal. I used to draw on my letters, adding silly jokes all over the place. In an email, all of that was lost. The communication, though, was still one to one. I had to think about what to write to the other person, and what I wrote would only relate to them.

Things changed again with social media. Now people could just write a message and land it to all their friends. Personal touch? Lost. At the time, there were no smartphones though. Posting something on facebook still required a bit of effort, if only to turn the PC on! It provided a little filter to uploading silly things. If one made the effort to upload it, it was probably a good photo.

Then smartphones arrived. And apps. The instant messages decreased the effort to communicate to almost zero. It took five seconds to post an update, and every silly picture in people’s mobiles started making their way to Facebook, or instagram, or whatever social platform.

Cell phones are so convenient, they are now an inconvenience

(Haruki Murakami)

Super funny people?

Our pockets started beeping almost constantly. Luckily a new thing, emojis, gave us an easy way out: the possibility to respond without even typing a word 😂. In fact, the Cry Laughing emoji became the most used in the world. So either the world is made of super funny people, or we don’t even spend enough time on a message to determine whether that joke was funny, very funny, or just ok. We just send the cry laughing emoji – it’s basically more like an acknowledgement than a real laughter.

And in this high speed world, it’s no surprise we started preferring a message to a phone call.

It’s time to tackle this

These days, the pandemic has given us the perfect opportunity to tackle this. We have the technology, and now also the time to make and receive phone (or video) calls. So starting today, I am going to make an effort to keep in touch with my friends in the right way. I’ll skip social networks and instant messages, and I’ll go back to the phone.

Initially I will even make a list so I’m sure I don’t forget anyone, but I do hope this will naturally evolve (or should I say, ‘go back’) to just picking up the phone to chat when I feel like. Like in the old days. Let’s see how it goes!


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