Connecting across continents

Connecting across continents

How we communicate across long distances has changed over the years

Representative image/Credit: Pixabay Image

Ever since I started working abroad a few decades ago, keeping in touch with my folks in India, particularly my parents, has been an unenviable task. Before the days of the internet, the sole mode of staying connected with my parents was the weekly telephone call (if you discount the letter, that could take up to a month to reach when it did not get lost in transit) which was expensive enough to limit the conversation to a set of, “hello, how are you?” between sets of people at both ends.

Then came the age of ‘calling cards’ offered by an assortment of companies, leasing or owning dedicated phone lines. These schemes offered much lower per-minute rates but extracted an additional price in terms of dialling 20-digit codes and waiting on tenterhooks to get access to one of the dedicated lines. There were even James Bond-like actions--you would have to dial a number, hang up and wait to be called back by a mysterious robot asking for your secret code.

At the receiving end in India, before the explosion of cell phones, fondly referred to as mobiles, landlines were still in the ‘luxury’ category. My parents were forced to go over to a friendly neighbour’s house, or even to the infamous STD booth.

Enter the age of vastly improved communications technology and intense competition across phone companies. Calling India from the US and other places abroad did not lead to bankruptcy. And when the voice-over-IP technology took over, talking to parents and other loved ones back home was no more expensive than calling someone locally. Phone calls increased in frequency to twice a day and conversations were quickly expanded to include topics such as lunch menus, neighbourhood gossip and weekend trips.

Fast forward to the age of social media, replete with Facebook, WhatsApp and the like. Families like mine are no longer just ‘keeping in touch’. They are overwhelming one another with multi-media exchanges. My mom who used to wait for hours near a neighbour’s phone for a five-minute call from my family, now gives us a narrow window of twenty minutes.

All important information is exchanged and acted upon in real-time, leaving very little to ‘talk’ about. I am amused by the irony of the situation – two decades ago, we could not afford to talk for more than five minutes, but now we don’t know what to talk for five minutes!