In the time before Whatsapp

I’m going to do one of those Remember When (“Remember when a bowl of mee was five cents?” Yeah, at the time when everyone was earning like fifty bucks a month, and no I don’t.) posts, just a short one.

REMEMBER WHEN the number of free SMSes you had with your phone plan actually mattered? And that if you had someone you SMSed regularly, you had to set a quota for each day, so that your free SMSes won’t run out before the end of the month? Not only that, but because you had a quota, you thought every SMS was goddamn precious and you had to squeeze out full usage of its 160 characters, kind of like writing a poem with a word limit?

Having a quota makes you do funny things, like trying to spread that quota out throughout the day, which means 24-8=16hours with maybe 20 SMSes? Which means  an average of 1.25 SMS per hour, which is rather pathetic. And you would wait for the reply which presumably suffers from the same constraints, so depending on when the other person set his clock, you’ll get your reply about 40 minutes later. It makes you intensely aware of time– “I’ll do work, and when a reply comes, I know I’ve done work for the past 40 minutes, and I can take a break,” “It’s only been ten minutes and I have a reply– something is different, be it emotional state or schedule”– and sometimes you build your rituals around this regular receive and reply process. It’s strange, thinking of it now– how neurotic! How significant you made it out to be! How, even, artificial, and tiring to maintain this!

Somewhat irrelevantly, REMEMBER WHEN your phone actually had a memory limit for SMSes? (and also REMEMBER WHEN lousy phones forced you to go into each message, select options and select delete before you could acutally delete a message)

Yeah, that sucked.

Not complaining about whatsapp, it’s one of the best things about smartphones. But as with any elimination of restrictions, a certain meaning you used to imbue on something has been displaced elsewhere. Restrictions are funny like that, forcing meaning just from their sheer limitation.


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