Wednesday January 16, 2013
Only a text away
By CORRIE TAN
The smartphone way to family bonding.
A few months ago, my family discovered the joys of group messaging over smartphone.
On discovering that it was free to text via the application WhatsApp (after a one-time downloading fee), my parents were hooked.
With three of us working full-time and two of us working part-time, it’s been hard for my parents and their three daughters to catch up during the week.
But with four iPhones and a BlackBerry between us, we’ve been able to connect throughout the day – which has resulted in some strange conversations, to put it nicely.
I recently downloaded the entire transcript of our WhatsApp conversation, unselfconsciously titled The Best Family, which dates back to August.
This group messaging thread has become the bedrock of our family exchanges, from desperate SOSes of “please turn off the fire if my rice is boiling” to heated discussions of current affairs – from last year’s presidential elections in the US to juicier local headlines.
“Michael Palmer has resigned because of an affair” was greeted with a chorus of “omg!”, “shocking” and “oh dear”.
This method of communication has been both tremendously useful and ridiculously useless.
Last month, my youngest sister, C, who detests shopping, sent the group chat a forlorn photograph of herself in an ill- fitting cheongsam that she was intending to buy for a formal function. Here is our conversation, verbatim:
2:09:02 PM: Dad: Doesn’t look fitting
2:11:02 PM: Dad: I thot cheongsam meant to be tight fitting to accentuate figure or something?
2:11:45 PM: Dad: Of course I’m a layman (I mean man) so only less than 2 cents’ worth.
2:11:52 PM: Corrie: She looks like she’s going for a funeral
2:11:56 PM: Corrie: Like it’s black and she looks sad
2:12:08 PM: C: HAHA
2:12:13 PM: C: Oops
2:12:20 PM: C: What if I smile
We also had an intense debate about children who choose not to give money to their parents when they enter the workforce.
6:26:51 PM: Dad: Either the v rich or v irresponsible. I know neither.
6:32:43 PM: Dad: Just trying to be funny. Not many parents or children would want to reveal such intimate details unless their relationship had effectively ruptured.
6:34:54 PM: Mum: Should talk to those husbands who give all their money to their wives
6:36:03 PM: Dad: Haha. U want me to give u all my $?
6:36:42 PM: Mum: Thought I already have them.
She promptly quoted her marriage vows. We quietly left them to settle their domestic dispute.
My parents, who were never particularly text-savvy, seem to have found a new voice through this brand of technology.
There are days where I am flooded with photographs and videos documenting a cycling date to East Coast Park or the bored antics of Jia Jia the panda at the Singapore Zoo (Dad: “See video above - Jia Jia sneezing. How cute can it get.”)
In an age where technology has often been derided as debilitating to human interaction, it has, somehow, helped our family get a lot closer.
My sisters and I used to share the same bedroom growing up, as well as our most fiercely guarded secrets. And while our lives have taken on rather divergent paths, those heart-to-heart talks have not subsided: A listening ear – or a reading eye, rather – is just seconds away.
Crises at work are much more quickly averted when you have five people brainstorming for ideas instead of just one, and funny anecdotes are great pick-me-ups on stressful days. We’ve been able to rant and rave to one another even if we are hundreds of kilometres apart – and sometimes thousands.
A few weeks ago, my younger sister, H, went on a volunteer trip to Myanmar – the first time any of our family members had visited the country. There, she took a picture of the sacred Shwedagon Pagoda gleaming in the afternoon light and sent it to us.
At that very instant, it was likely that one of us was clogged up in public transportation, in the middle of a meeting or, in my case, on the way to a forum at one of the museums.
But in that moment, I swear we were all next to her, taking in the beauty of the pagoda’s dynamic architecture.
“So jealous! It’s beautiful,” I typed at 6:17:28pm, and I meant every word.
6:19:19 PM: C: Wah seh
6:20:00 PM: Mum: Woohoo. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network