Guest Post by Utkarsha Kotian
1. Never use “urgent” if it’s not urgent;
2. Never send vague messages that panic people;
3. And above all, don’t leave a message if you can wait till you see the person.
With this holy grail of texting fastened to my belt, I entered junior college in 2007. Little was I to know that my dexterity in sending messages would last well beyond college, beyond my cheese-hogging phase, and later my I-have-to-eat-healthy-phase.
About seven years ago when I entered college, there existed a breed of species that didn’t own a cell phone. All I could hope then was to make friends with people who owned one and, more importantly, used it actively. That was the foundation of most of my friendships – don’t have a phone!? How will we speak then?
Statistically speaking, in a country like India, you should have a lot of people with similar thought processes and tastes. People to “connect” with. In reality, the perfect friend and partner may be miles away in a different city, state or country. I discovered that texting was the way I could connect with all those people who were similar to me, after spending years in company of those who never understood my likes or choices. Sure, the internet and messengers played a huge role in making new friends (there never was nor can be anything like Yahoo! Messenger), but the next step to any friendship was exchanging numbers so that you could chat without having to connect over a dial-up connection on your PC.
Even so, calling was my base mode of communication. Everything changed when my parents decided that they’d get me a prepaid SIM card (bills in the first few months ran into 1000s) and then Vodafone decided to give levies away on texting. Suddenly, no text was too long and no conversation was not “urgent” enough.
Till a couple of years ago, I sent around 350-360 texts a day (the limit on the unlimited scheme was 500 a day). Yes, actual text messages because IM apps either didn’t exist then or in all honesty, I didn’t bother much. All I needed was a sturdy phone and a friend with the same SMS pack. I’d be lying if I said I was not an addict to texting. What started out with keeping in touch with friends who didn’t stay in Mumbai, turned into a full blown relationship with people I refused to meet because I could text them and “keep in touch” at the same time while being comfortable at home.
To add to all of this, growing up in India has never been easy for people with friends from the opposite sex. Sure, you enter college and have friends you can hang out with irrespective of your gender, but even now if I am going to a coffee shop with a guy friend, I have to make sure none of the “aunties” are around to tattle to the rest of the world. Thankfully, armed with a mobile phone and an unlimited SMS-pack I could text a guy without anyone around knowing whom I was talking to and about what. That sort of anonymity is so liberating that I don’t think I could have friends any other way.
Then the unthinkable happened, the Government of India decided that no one could send more than a 100 messages in a day and I was shattered. Then WhatsApp entered our lives. And suddenly, all texting took place in live time.
Texting has long been a crutch for my life because I am a procrastinator. I hate moving out of my house to meet people, though I love company. Getting to know a person because I text them often is liberating for a “home-body” like me.
Texting is not just a convenient way of conversing with people, it’s also the simplest and the most manipulative. I can choose how much I have to reveal over a text – a convenience not available while holding a face to face chat. I can lie through my teeth and the person I am having the conversation would have no clue. Conversely, I can form a deep bond and talk about my deepest secrets and bare my heart to a person while I text, knowing perfectly well that they can’t see my face turn a perfect shade of beetroot red or that I am anxious for a reply.
I could simply send a “:P” smiley and turn an insult into a joke; a “” could be an exaggerated version of simply feeling down. And most importantly XOXO like it’s nobody’s business. In reality, I wouldn’t want to kiss as many people as I send kisses to on IMs.
It’s not just a matter of how personal I want a text to be without betraying emotions, but also how comfortable I am in not meeting people and yet knowing them inside out. It’s the power to make friends without the whole emotional angle to it where if things sour, my easiest way out is to block the number and continue texting with others. I am sure I’m not the only one of my generation who views text relationships more seriously than some actual interpersonal ones. But I am proud to be one of the few who can be just as comfortable with “text-friends” when I meet them personally and be able to make conversations with them.
I used to use a term quite often a few years ago – “I live in your phone”, a way of telling people that look, this is as real as I can get. Anything more than this will lead to unnecessary tangles. It’s not that I am wary of commitment but I am wary of friendships that have lasted long enough only because my text buddy is assured of never meeting me. The physical distance in texting amplifies the sharing process for me.
It’s been a long journey with me and texting, full of ups and downs. Sometimes I texted because I needed friends and at other times because I didn’t. I have lost count of how much of my social life depends on my phone and how many people I send a good morning message to, to keep our conversations go on for months without a pause and without meeting. I know I’d be a cripple if the power to text was taken away from me but I think I am fairly confident in telling people now that “I have lived in your phone for long. I wouldn’t mind making this an outside-of-the-phone friendship too”.
Texting has been liberating for me, it has bought me confidence in my opinions because the person opposite me could not shout at me. It has bought me much-needed emotional disconnect that doesn’t let the problems in people’s lives affect me much. It has also made me realise the importance of friendship because I wait for my friends in other time zones to be awake to share news. My parents had pen pals, I’ve had texting buddies.
I’m thankful for having them, because they’re the best people I know. And I’m grateful to have been able to text people no matter where I am, because they’ve been the best conversations I’ve ever had.
(Utkarsha Kotian is a 22-year-old soon to be English Literature postgrad. She talks a lot and never takes a clue on when to shut up. Since she loves animated conversations and often people do not want to listen, she blogs! You can find her blog here.)