Ten years ago when I was living in Italy, NZ felt so far away it might as well have been on Mars. The only way of keeping in touch with friends was letters that took two weeks to arrive, so it was unusual to hear from anyone more often than once a month and the news was often out of date. I used to look forward to the moment I would get home from school and see if any post had arrived that day, and if no-one had written, I would wait another 24 hours till the next time the post came. The only NZ news I read was the odd newspaper that Dad would send, which while great to read was always old news by the time I received it.
Apart from the odd photo that someone would send me, I spent a year of my life not knowing what most people looked like. As a result I didn't even recognise one of my sisters when I returned, as she had grown taller and had a totally different haircut than a year earlier. I did not have an email address until a year later, and thought that cellphones were something only owned by very wealthy people..
Now, ten years later, I am living overseas again. Emails arrive a few seconds after they are sent, text messages take the same length of time, and I can keep up to date on the smaller details of friends' and family members' lives through Facebook, Bebo, blogs and cheap phone calls. I read the NZ news every day, and look at photos other people post. The only addresses I know by heart are my parents', and don't have any one's landlines. I don't even know what my own is without looking it up. On the other hand, at any given moment, I always know exactly where my cellphone is. .
In only 10 years, things have changed completely. I wonder - which way is better? On the upside of now, I love being up to date with what's going on at home, hearing from people easily, and being able to read the news to find out about what's going on in the world. I love that I can get texts from Dad that say "goodnight, Lauren!", as well as funny joke email forwards from Mum, not to mention all the other communications I get from everyone else. Blogs and Facebook mean that I can see what other people are up to in a way that requires minimal effort and no direct communication. I feel closer to home than I did in Italy, because while I might not always write or text, I know that when I do they are immediate..
On the flip side, though, as everyone else probably thinks like me in terms of using blogs and Facebook to see what people are up to, I receive fewer emails now than letters when I was in Italy. Emails are generally shorter than letters used to be, and I wouldn't recognise the handwriting of some of my closest friends. Emails and texts get deleted and email addresses get de-activated, so I hate to think how future historians are going to research the people of now. Another pro of the old days is that I still have the letters of people who used to write to me that have died, and I would much rather have something to keep that they wrote in their own handwriting than a printed email written in 12-point Times New Roman. There were other benefits of the old method too - once the postman came, that was it. I wouldn't worry again until the next day, unlike now when you can obsessively check emails, cellphones and the Internet.
On balance, I am happier the way things are now. Things are easier, faster, and I like feeling close to home when I'm not. But, still, I feel that this has come at a cost. What do you think?