Hands up those who remember a time when there was no email, no SMS-ing, no iPhones, iPads, iPods or iAnythings. No instant messaging, no BBMs, no Blackberrys, Galaxys, or Androids. No Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Tumblr or Google+.
Or when an app was how someone with a lisp would pronounce ‘abs’. Or when you actually had to memorise a phone number or look it up in an actual address book whenever you wanted to ring up someone.
Or when people could only call you at one of two places – your home or your office, and if they wanted to reach you urgently, they had to leave a message with someone or on your machine, and sometimes it would be hours before you got back to them. Or weeks if you were on holiday.
Actually, who remembers a time when going on holiday meant that no one from work could get in touch with you with stupid questions like, “Where did you put that file?”, “When are you coming back? I’d like to schedule a meeting with X!”, or “Can you cut short your holiday? We have an emergency back here.”
Or send you an email that said, “I know you’re on holiday, but can you review this attachment? It’s urgent. Thanks.”
What about a time when no one expected you to know an answer immediately? Which meant that you actually had time to think about the problem, or head off down the corridor to ask someone who might know, and if he didn’t, you had to go to the library, which meant a nice walk out in the fresh air and sunshine.
Or when going on a blind date with a stranger was actually quite exciting because you couldn’t Google him or check out what kind of people were his friends on Facebook. And being picked up in a bar was a genuine thrill that involved a lot of eye contact and flirting, and didn’t involve an app that churned out dozens of pictures of half naked bodies of anyone within 50 m of your current location, with accompanying text that specified with embarrassing detail what they did or didn’t like done to them.
I ask all this because Saffy and Amanda recently started an electronic diet as a kind of social experiment. Actually, it was a drunken bet that sounded like a good idea when you’ve just drunk half a bottle of tequila and five shots, and you’re no longer depressed about the terrible day you had at the office.
“So,” I began, as I scrunched up my forehead, trying to come to grips with this, “you are both going to go a week without any electronic contact?”
“Yes!” Amanda said firmly. “No handphones, no social media, no Google, nothing!”
“What if people need to call you?”
Saffy smirked. “They can call us on the lan-line!”
This announcement was followed by a slight pause as our eyes flicked around our apartment.
“Do we even have a lan-line?” Amanda eventually asked.
It turns out we do, but it took us a good ten minutes of peering behind sofas and rummaging through shelves to find it before Saffy had the bright idea of calling the home phone from her iPhone.
“But this is the last time I’m using this!” she declared as she slipped her phone into a box that already held various gadgets.
It’s now day three of the diet and tempers are frayed.
Without her map app, Saffy got lost walking from Shenton Way to Raffles Place. Amanda spent half an hour wandering around Ngee Ann City looking for a phone that she could use to ring a friend to tell him that she was running late for their lunch. By the time she arrived all hot and flustered, he’d left, so she had to have lunch by herself, which she considered a fate worse than death.
Sharyn rang me in a state of hysteria, screaming that something foul must have happened to Saffy because she’d not answered any of her SMSs and the voicemail was full. When I explained the situation, she became even more hysterical.
“Aiyoh, where got such thing, one? This is not 1962, you know! I thought she fall into longkang and die there alone! Got handphone, don’t use! They all siao, ah, I tell you!”
The worst came when the staff at Gucci tried to call Amanda to tell her about their sale. Of course, they couldn’t reach her. When Amanda found out, she started trembling and her eyes took on the kind of glazed look you normally only see on faces of unhappy African children.
If you’re not sure what I mean, you should Google it.