I forayed into the world of social media with Yahoo messenger and Orkut. Whenever I think of them, the exciting, funny and cute teenage memories replay in my mind. Reaching out to that popular kid or confessing your crush required a little less bravery with these platforms. It was exhilarating for sure. The tech industry was just starting to boom around that time. Soon, Facebook came around and created a revolution. Then came Google Hangouts, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and so on.
I was in a long distance relationship since my college days in India. We were in different states and back then, it meant we had to worry about roaming (telephone) charges. These charges were notorious in the sense that not only was the calling rate pricier than usual, but there was also a charge on incoming calls. It felt ridiculous but we had no other option. Forgot to mention, SMS was not free either but we could buy some special packs that got us 1000 free messages or so. But these messages had word limits. And in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, that does not suffice at all.
Without lines of communication, our relationship would not exist. Well, we had online chatting platforms but those cannot replace a voice. We had wifi and Skype but they could be used only on laptops. That was not the most convenient option, especially as we lived with roommates. And guess what, my boyfriend’s hostel switched off the internet every night. Also, we didn’t carry our heavy laptops with us all day so reaching out to the other person could be a pain, especially on those balance-strapped days. Such situations gave rise to the system of “missed calling”. I bet all my friends can relate to this!!
Smartphones were not that prominent yet but we owned decent phones that supported some apps. My techie boyfriend and thrifty me put in a lot of energy trying to find phone apps that would enable internet-based calling. We finally managed to find one called Fring, which was scrappy at its best, but worked once in a while. Smartphone was not the only limitation. Cellular internet was extremely slow and expensive. So naturally, when I look back to our Fring days, I mostly remember moments of frustration and voice lags. Well, thankfully, some cellular networks offered interesting plans for night calling where the charge per minute was extremely low, I think 10 paisa per minute. But of course, our “balance” would run out right during important conversations and we had to wait until we could physically go to the store nearby to get a recharge or “top up”. Remember, online recharges were also not a thing then. Think that came around when we were in the final year and we were delighted with such innovations.
Facebook was pretty much the only social app during those days but I don’t think it had any private chat option initially. Besides, it did not have a mobile version so that was again a laptop-related limitation. Gradually, some phone chatting apps came around such as Line, Viber, Hike, etc. We kept our hopes high and tried each one of them, only to be frustrated in some time with some drawback. However, Hike was quite good out of the bunch and we actively used that until 2015. It had stickers in addition to the regular emojis that delighted us. Believe me, any new form of expression is exciting in a long distance relationship. That was a time when we were into the cheesy romantic stickers too! I wish I had saved all of our early chats but glad that we have at least some screenshots. They totally embarrass us now but are great reminders of the journey.
Finally, Whatsapp was created and as it built the calling feature, we entered a new era of communication. The timing was perfect because I moved to US around same time and Whatsapp calls made it extremely convenient to stay connected with my family. This new age completely transformed the social dynamics. In fact, things are still in a state of flux. Never had multiple generations been so active on the phone and internet. Who would have thought that being an influencer will be a legit job someday! Types of users, ways of connecting and amounts of consumption are ever expanding. However, norms or boundaries are not clearly established yet. When is it imperative to respond versus when is it okay not to? When to speak or shut up? What is an optimum level of sharing? What all things should one share? Is a “like” or “heart” enough acknowledgement or does it need to be followed with some comment? Does a comment seem dry without an emoji? Does a friendship gain strength with a tag in a story or on a permanent post through a grid? How far do you market yourself on LinkedIn for professional development? Many of us may know the answers to these questions for ourselves but communication is two-way. To that extent, we all sail in the same boat of awkwardness. Does it make us more connected but also more insecure?
Collectively, micro-level behaviors are shaping the society at an astonishing rate. Actively or passively, we are contributing to the changing times. Things are moving at such a fast pace that it feels like a movie where I played a role long back. Once, I thrived on social media and now, I feel a misfit. I never felt so outdated as the day when someone told me about a TikTok video and I was like what the hell is TikTok. It is amusing. Where once I was in the thick of activity, I am now in a back seat watching rest of the play unfold. Not sure what to feel about it. Once, I wished for better communication platforms. Now that there is abundance, I feel I am okay with few. I wonder how different my relationship would be if we had all these apps back then. I mean the first time my boyfriend reached out to me was through a text message. That seems oddly old fashioned now, doesn’t it?
(Picture source: https://marketingland.com/library/channel/social-media-marketing)