Alpana Parida: New Year Wishes – A Whatsapp Flood

04 Jan,2017

By Alpana Parida

 

From midnight onwards, a spate of Whatsapp and sms messages flooded my inbox. All were messages wishing me a Happy New Year. The Whatsapp ones had images or videos attached and were full of cute or funny ways of saying Happy 2017, the sms messages were simpler in their wishes.

 

The problem was, that except for three, none of the remaining 244 was meant for me. They were greetings addressed to no one in particular and blasted to all on the sender’s address book. I had messages from family, colleagues, friends, the Siemens repair man, the guy who put up the net in our balconies, a mother from my daughter’s car pool – from four years ago, my vegetable delivery guy, a person I briefly met at an event and did nothing more to stay in touch than add his number to my contacts as well as many other known and unknown numbers I had not bothered to store on my phone.

 

I was unsure as to the etiquette about how to respond to these wishes of good cheer. Was I supposed to thank the senders for blasting these and for putting me on a long and meaningless list of people they wished?  Or was I supposed to broadcast to my own address book and hope that some would find their mark? This struggling with the appropriate response is nothing new – as I get these at every conceivable holiday. I get Diwali greetings, Holi wishes and even requests for forgiveness from Jain friends on Samvatsari.

 

We used to send out cards before. Even though they were uniform in their wishes, the act of compiling a mailing list of people you wanted to wish, writing out each name by hand, addressing and mailing the envelopes personified the greeting. It was from me to a specific person – who I had thought of and wanted to wish. The mass greetings of today are not to any specific person. They are rather like a message in a bottle, where the receiver of the message is irrelevant – only the message is.

 

Our online presence, which is non-material and virtual, is not a lightness of being even while being non-physical. Rather, we are defined by the weight of our digital persona and how many likes, how many greetings, how many followers we have, add to the persona. The personalisation of a greeting is immaterial; the volume of greetings is what matters. If only in single or low double digits, we should have self-esteem issues and the greater the number, more satisfying it is.

 

These wishes are like confetti, individually meaningless – but collectively celebratory. We participate in these rituals to keep the ‘chain mail’ syndrome alive. Only if everyone does his or her bit, will the entire system survive. Thus, everyone sends out large number of messages – to await their own confetti of messages.

 

The only problem?  The three ‘real’ and personal messages got lost in this avalanche of good cheer and I got to each of them almost 12-18 hours after they were sent. But those three messages meant so much more because the senders not only mentioned my name, but also a personal fact that authenticated their sincerity many times over. In this age of mass confetti – there is an opportunity to create a simple personalised message that can today, become remarkable and memorable – and help the sender stand out by creating a personal brand.

 

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