Thursday, November 30, 2006

Encoded Emotions

Mama is in Legaspi, the provincial city where all three of us her children were born and raised. Our eldest is in Florida. Our youngest is in Metro Manila. I, the middle child, am in California. Not so long ago we agreed to meet after not having seen each other between eight months and five years. No, we were not about to converge in one particular geographical point. We were to stay put and communicate at the touch of a button.

It was a big day for all of us especially Mama who, being a baby boomer, was about to embark on an electronic journey unlike any of her previous ventures. She has gone as far as being a competently dextrous and jargon-enabled consumer of text messaging. But the keyboard and monitor are alien to her. Say "mouse" and she might be on her toes for a rodent resident. And it amazes her no end how a small widget as a webcam was about to enable all of us to see each other despite thousands of miles of oceans in between.

In place of location, the different time zones became the order of the event. Night and day were about to mesh as each of us sought out a terminal from which to transmit our words and image, our thoughts and feelings: Mama and our youngest had to go to an internet cafe, our eldest and I each had an accessible PC from home.

Like any pioneer endeavor, we spent a great deal of time and effort stumbling though the technical set-up. With help from shop assistants, Mama was the first to broadcast her image and voice. I was smiling from ear to hear seeing her with a rather large headset clumping on her ears. And the microphone curving outwards to her lips made her seem like a burger joint crew captain or Madonna in concert.

In between configuring our respective pieces of chilly metals and hard plastic, our mother, being virtually on top of it all, was regulating the conversation. My sisters were simultaneously conversing with her while integrating their hardwares and softwares. No sooner was everyone transmitting spoken words and streaming images - everyone but me. Unfortunately, my audio and video were not in their optimal functionality. I can hear and see them all but they couldn't do likewise with me. I was digitally detached. So, the keyboard became my tool and encoded language my format. My words will have to be typewritten in response to theirs spoken.

They were all quite dismayed at my technological disadvantage. In the vastness of the internet universe, the only thing Mother planet wanted was to see and hear her terestrially distant yet emotionally proximate sattelites. Seeking reassurance, she asked me if I could hear and see her. I inscribed, "Iyo po, Mama, dangog ta 'ka, hiling ta 'ka." (Yes, Mama, I can hear you, I can see you.) She looked wondrously into the monitor and uttered the words that seemed to have magically appeared onscreen. When she got to the last word, she sat in silence and swelled with tears of joy.

So, there we were in different parts of the world conveying to each other through the internet our significant joys and pains, our little triumphs and defeats, our current issues and concerns; I, in particular, communicating with my fingers. From then on, our web conferences had become a constant electronic affair averaging twice a month, with our four-way audio-video interface in full technical functioning.

It's amazing how technology touches human lives, how it enables us to transcend cold hardware and insentient software and transmit emotions. In certain ways, technology does brings people closer together. How it equips us to navigate our way to other people's hearts is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

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