In this time of isolation and quarantine I watch my son speaking to his friend on Skype having, what seems to him, a normal play date and I think of my mother. I think of her for two reasons.
Firstly, she is able to contact my brother via Skype to reassure herself that he is well and, although he may have had COVID19, that he is recovering. Just as my son is adjusting to the new normal, so is she.
The second reason I think of her is to do with defining normal itself. It was not so very long ago that Skype was a new concept. Before that, it was cell phones, and before that a telephone that attached to the wall. I remember normal as the old dial up phone. Once a week we gathered as a family to call our relatives at a specific time, always agreed upon the week before.
My mother remembers the time before that when phones were few and far between, and international calls almost unheard of. Telegrams were the way to go if you wanted to communicate internationally, or even snail mail, which was truly slow in the 1960’s.
So what is normal for us? My generation still jumped up at the sound of the post box slithering with the arrival of letters. The excitement was palpable; you never knew what might arrive. A letter from a pen-pal, or from family half way around the world, the stamp club, a magazine subscription, or even a bill could bring that buzz on. I try to instill that same sense of excitement in my son, but promises of packages, of letters from a pen-pal are boring to a child who can instantly speak to his Uncle in the UK (provided we recall the time difference).
Imagine, then, what it was like for my mother, when she decided that she was going to get married, after meeting her future husband, in Australia of all places. No phone call, and a letter would be too late, she would be home with her betrothed before it arrived. No, she announced her engagement from the other side of the world to her unsuspecting parents by telegram. Imagine getting a telegram today. Unless you are century old and its from the Queen, you are unlikely to receive one. In fact, I’m not even sure you can easily send one anymore.
So the new normal appears to be near instantaneous communication. But can we keep up with it?