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A friend in the United States contacted me to reminisce recently. We texted the whole time and also talked about texting. She now has adult children living there whose texts she eagerly awaits. They could call, but they are often swamped. They would rather text.

Her children are not alone. I knew of two Italians that were residing here about three years ago. They lived together as roommates but used to text one another on WhatsApp. One of them used to complain about this sorry arrangement but with no avail. She had a roommate. They communicated. But she was lonely.

We agreed that time is changing with my friend from the United States. With some nostalgic thoughts, I texted her about the time we worked together a couple of decades ago. It was before screens dominated the Digital Age, changed the way we communicate in nearly every way. Without a sense of irony, she replied with a flood of sad-eyed emojis.

For millennia, ever since writing began, the general public was mostly illiterate. The trend changed over the past two centuries. In the past century, it was made a measure of any countries’ development levels. The text was a passport for integration into the modern world.

Nonetheless, what few would have imagined is how it would come to overcome our mode of communication.

Who would have ever thought that, post-literacy, psychologists and sociologists would recommend more face-to-face interaction as an antidote to the adverse effects of physical isolation and social media?

We can see what is lost when we look at the way older people interact. These are people who are thoroughly enmeshed with the older form of socialisation, which is face-to-face. It is not just words that are used to make a point, but gestures, tones and facial expressions. An excellent example is the internet sensation that is Emama Zinash, whose videos on the internet get hundreds of thousands of views.

Seven months ago, a refrigerator was brought to Emama Zinash, a poverty-stricken old lady who found fame on the internet after videos of her started to be posted, thanks to a philanthropist. Packed, it was put in her only room in a house. To convince her of the virtue of the machine, mutton was brought to her as a gift from an unidentified woman for her to keep inside. She could not believe it. A mutton of such size could only come from someone more powerful than just an individual like the government.

She assumed sole rights of the mutton, started walking around her compound with her stick and surrendered her heavy eyeglass, without which she could barely see, to one of the people there. Then a war of words broke out between her and her caretakers and triggered her emotions.

Emama Zinash is an authorial voice of figurative language and a colourful exhibitor of where she is from. Most of all, with a wide range of emotions in a matter of minutes, she could tell stories of turns and twists in plots from her never forgetting mind.

“There is no place here in this house for the refrigerator!” she exhaled.

Then she listed items not belonging to her, yet to her caretakers, cluttering the house, while she has only a single plastic bag filled with clothes, an old box and a pot. Then she was overcome with an explosion of rage as she explained that items brought by them are stifling her in the house.  She twisted finally in an authoritative order to her caretakers to mount the refrigerator outside her house in the compound.

How could such a colourful spectrum of emotions be expressed in a text message?

Simple, they cannot. Instead, all that would be left are monotone texts, robbed of the emotions of the person that is attempting to express themselves.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 16,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1081]

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