Festive season reminds me about the transformation the world of sharing seasons’ greetings has gone through. From those days when as teenagers we were made to ferry plateful of sweets across neighboring households to later years when we often poured emotions in hand-drawn greeting cards, the subtlety of sharing emotions were to become outright blatant in the following years.Telephonic greetings and printed cards arrived much later, by which time greetings had started bearing a crass reflection of social and economic status. Emotions were tagged to a price, and the trend is in vogue till this day!
In parallel, there is a new trend that has caught on. The present-day gadget-friendly generation has gone a step ahead, for them emotions are a product of digital technology. The manner in which they use bland text, passive status and predictive smiley makes one believe as if the youngsters, and even some of their senior followers, have run out of emotions. It seems conscious expression of thoughts have given space to copied text and downloaded visuals. Need it be said that the realm of digital communication has unleashed a world of electronic emotions around us. Digitized emotions have become virtual products for real consumption.
I am as disturbed as novelist Ayn Rand would have been, who considered ’emotions as a product of man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly’. Since lot goes into making of human emotions, I have difficulty with the digital emotions. Consequently, I try not to acknowledge text messages, bulk greetings and electronic cards. For me, the cut and paste emotions that are re-invented and re-send are worthy of quick deletion, as these are but a reflection of the general drift of our culture. I like conventions. I like personal touch to greeting family and friends. May be, digital greetings don’t assure me of the attention that I think I deserve!
But much to my discomfort, passive electronic emotions continue to fill-up the virtual space.
As touch-screen technology moves center stage as a mode of communication, the business of saying things face-to-face is seemingly on its way out. Mediated by communication technologies, emotions too have become packaged products which can be clicked and picked online. As these are produced so are these consumed, a perfect reminder that we live in a ‘read and delete’ society. That electronic emotions lack the ability to communicate the essence of an emotional response isn’t a majority concern, and yet it has the power of unstoppable proliferation. Pity that no one considers the value of the glorious personal greetings the sun showers on the mountains!
Despite my personal disliking for digitized emotions, I am still convinced that it has given a convenient vent to positive emotions for a large majority who may not be able to afford the economics of sharing greetings (printed cards, expensive gifts etc) the traditional way. Consequently, sharing of feelings through a variety of ’emoticons’ have worked ever since digital form of emotions were uploaded on the Internet on Sept 19, 1982. Since then, human emotions have got a non-human face to them. These environment-friendly emoticons have been downloaded and shared several billion times. Not sure if these make the recipients happy, though. Isn’t expressing emotions through written words getting obsolete?
But what worries me is the accumulation of ‘negative emotions’ in the process, because humans are a mix of both positive and negative emotions. While ‘positive emotions’ exit through the electronic route, ‘negative emotions’ fail to escape human psyche. No wonder, pent-up emotions and hidden aggression increasingly confront us as a society. Be it unprovoked violence in social life or increasing incidences of road rage, the ‘negative emotions’ are finding a variety of violent escape routes. This is a subject that has yet to be researched to any appreciable degree, though we do read about the flip side of our over-dependence on the digital technologies. The trouble is that unlike electronic emoticons these (negative emotions) cannot be easily deleted from our lives!
(Dr. Sudhirendar Sharma is Director, Ecological Foundation, New Delhi, India.)