It was a Sunday and, while surfing the World Wide Web, I noticed on the net my daughter, who is generally unavailable to speak to us during the day time, available for chat. Normally she likes to lurk in the “invisible mode” or her presence is sternly marked in a forbidding red, warning obtrusively solicitous parents to stay off.
It seems we stay in different time zones; on different planets, almost. Even our biologies, it appears, are different.We are the 9:30 to 6:00 people while for them the day begins when we are preparing to call it a day. So we generally manage to put in a word or two edgeways and get the standard reply ‘Dad I’ll call you in a while.” If it is 12:00 PM then may be at 12:40 AM, if her shoot gets wrapped up early, and at 4:30 in the morning if things did not go as per schedule, she would like to pick up the threads. In a state of total stupor or somnolence we end up getting all confused and tangled. We beg ourselves, hoping to sort out the matters tomorrow. My wife has been trying to conclude a conversation in respect of my daughter’s marriage for the last two years. It still goes on - simply because she has not been able to advance her most cogent and clinching arguments. When the summit actually takes place she is at her fuzziest and most confused, while her interlocutor is in a state of heightened clarity. No prizes for guessing the result.
We got started after the customary hi and things like that. The drift of conversation was in no particular direction, but what bugged me the most (dear me, my English is really getting all screwed up! Are children such bad influence on parents?) was a string of consonants, like proper nouns of Balkan or East European origin. In a kindly fashion my daughter took to educating me in the new language with all the consideration due to a nouvau admis. I had heard that "LOL" is the shorthand expression for laughing out loud. But there was the ASAP, for my benefit it was explained as soon as possible ,then BTW cropped up, which I understand is "by the way". In the middle of a raging conversation you could just hang up, leaving the other fellow high and dry with a BRB - be right back. Then there was this neologism NTW, not to worry, but I am told it is catching up fast. Or viralising, I should say. But more economy was available. On the chat you do not say I am happy or annoyed in words, you just hurl a smiley - annoyed, delighted, intrigued, puzzled etc. There are a dozen of them nicely organized in columns, in half platoon strength. And yes, even in their world there are etiquettes, clearly recognized protocols. Capital letters and punctuations are screaming bad manners. Internet has forged its own sociology of private and public manners, new and dynamic forms of community.
We had a long conversation and on almost every issue we had different views. Since my daughter has studied literature in one of the best colleges of the country, the cultivated illiteracies of the text messages, the brutal abridgement of the capacious and rich English language, the deeply alienating influence of internet, pop culture and high art figured recurrently. I am afraid we could never ever come to a common ground. The chat came to an end with a parting shot from her. She quoted Jacques Lacan’s famous quip with its proper spelling, Les Non-Dupes errent. (‘The undeceived are deluded’).
My daughter excused herself. After all, the young of her generation are so hard pressed for time! They have to remain in touch with each other, the 450 friends on Facebook, the 1100 followers on twitter, the streaming e-mails on their Blackberry, blogs, the new cool video on you-tube!
But long after she had left, I wondered if this is the first time people of two generations are trying to start a dialogue. The children have been forever in a state of holy war against their intrusive, ignorant parents. It is something that is perhaps, in the nature of things. So what is different?
I just venture the proposition that the pace of change in our generation was perhaps slower, therefore, obsolescence set in much later, the shelf life of parents was much longer. In our time I guess, and more so in the time of my father and before, two generations could be part of the same adult world but with clearly defined roles, well defined territories. In their prolonged period of childhood they became conditioned to look up to the adult for guidance and advice. The parent child relationship - essentially one, between untrusting-self and the regulating other - was one of authority.
But now we have worked up a rapid, vertiginous pace. Now the secrets of adulthood or the ways of the vile wicked world are open to children much earlier. Parents no longer hold the key. They trust themselves, their own judgments, opinions and capabilities, and they have moved the internet in loco parentis.
Instead of curiousity and wonder, a certain world weariness and cynicism is the hall mark of the precocious adult. Riding the wave of technology, especially the TV, internet, the iPhone, they have renounced the community of real men and women and retreated to the virtual communities where they have discovered new modes of participatory activity and leisure, new ideals of shared experience, new sites of protest and resistance. The generations seem to inhabit different worlds with different rules, mores conventions and morals. Relationship, marriage, paternity they all stand liberated from the immemorial taboos. People of my generation tend to put too much premium on experience. But I now realize experience has its down side. With age comes not only the erosion of physical capabilities but also stiffness of mental fibre, the incapability of appreciating the new and the unfamiliar. I think the best strategy is to have trust – trust in their judgment and ability and pray to God that your trust is not misplaced.
But reverting to the core issue, the debilitation of genuine literacy in favour of the digital, the deliberate renunciation of the vast resources of language in the interest of expediency, economy of both time and money (I am told mobile service providers charge per character instead of words), the dumbing down by way of homage to the intellectual democracy, has a direct bearing on the whole issue. We live inside the language of our discourse. And as Wittgenstein once said, “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. A few lines from Romeo and Juliet, the emblematic symbol of romantic aspirations in our less unhurried times in the world that has gone by, juxtaposed against two lines from the chart buster song “You and Me Baby” which inaugurated the third millennium for us, would perhaps illustrate the point .
If I profane with my unworthy hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Have not saints lips and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
The great ceremony of the courting ritual, the obliquities of speech, the passionate yearning and that awful daring of the proposition that demands but a kiss, will be thrown into sharper relief by this direct and uncomplicated exhortation of the Bloodhound Gang pop music group of this Brave New World:
You and me, baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals.
So let‘s do it like they do on the discovery channel.
Romeo and Juliet would be left stranded and speechless, in this world of naked apes and instant gratification of desire. But I am not worried about the plight of the iconic lovers, nor about the elimination of all possibilities of romantic love. I can rationalize my own little dialogic problems with my children. We will soldier along, since we must. My worry is how their generation and the succeeding generations will be able to strike even a conversation between themselves, each a separate island , seated or strapped variously, to their laptops and iPhones or playstations and desktops.