Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Communication past and present

In an average week I have about an hour to an hour and a half in any given day to do what I call “thinking work” that is, anything that requires concentration and focused effort. Many days I find myself debating how to spend this precious resource. Do I blog, work on the novel, read the newspaper, do some work on the website development for the community group, write to family or friends, work on photographs and graphics (a side hobby of mine), or just sit back with a cup of coffee and a novel or the latest Sudoku? Hey I never said that I was totally dedicated to writing. Note that nowhere in this list is housework – thinking time is too precious to waste on that. Some days I don’t even get this time. It is a gift of the great friend of parents – the napping child. I figure that when my children are 18, then they can decide for themselves whether to nap. Until then I jealously guard my time and I have fairly happy, well-rested children.

Today I spent most of this time talking on the phone to a friend in Minnesota. It was lovely to catch up on all the news: babies, weddings, weather and family dramas. Modernity may have some things to answer for, but being able to pick up the telephone and share the life of the friend living a day behind you is one of its pleasures. When my parents first lived in Asia in the 1960s, international phone calls involved physically going to the exchange, booking the call and waiting, sometimes for several days, for a line to become available. Once, the operator couldn’t even find New Zealand on the map and accused my parents of making a mistake with the destination. Travelling involved ships and several leisurely weeks. Most communication was via mail. Today, do most of us even know what an aerogramme is?

If moving overseas was such a big step in the 1960s, can you imagine what it was like in the 1860s and 1870s? Any exchange of communication involved waiting four months each way for the message. In eight plus months, any information was old and many circumstances changed. Sometimes, the writer had died before the message reached its recipient. For many of the German families, the whole family migrated as a group including children, adult siblings and grandparents. There was no-one to write home to. It really was a major life decision to step onto that ship and travel to the other side of the world. In some ways, it might have been easier to have no contact. Once you were in Australia regret might stir, but it wouldn’t be prodded by contact with home. In other ways, it might have been the single most difficult experience of their lives.

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