Shazia Mirza’s Weekend Column

I had some bad news this week. My manager informed me of this news via email. It was like hearing about the death of a loved one via pigeon. Bad news should only ever be delivered face to face or voice to voice. We seem to celebrate our numerous methods of communication, but really there is no communication at all. I talk to my plants more than I talk to my neighbours, I get text messages that take me three hours to read because they’re written like this: “Hi, I ope you av a gr8 day. Call me La8tr.” I had an email from someone this week that read, “Da ut ov 2day are really annoying me!” Ut? I had to say this 20 times before I understood it. Youth has now become ut. Haven’t we taken enough from them – now we have to take their letters?

I had an email recently from a girl who used to live over the road from me as a child. She wrote, “Hi Shazia, howz u? Im sure u used 2 live across the road from me.We sumtimes played tennis 2 gever at the park and you was in your eliment. I am married now wif 3 daughters.” Then, to my horror, she ended the email with: “Im now teachin in Leeds. Luv Clare.”

Teaching? With English like this. It’s like saying you’re a train driver when you’ve never seen a train. It was like reading modern morse code.

Getting bad news via email makes it seem so much worse than it actually is. Just a few lines, no emotion, no comfort, not really an explanation. Just a few cold hard words. It’s a cop-out. Just write a few words and the problem of delivering it is no longer yours. A close friend recently told me she was very happy to announce she was getting married – and made the announcement by email. I don’t know how she didn’t fall off her chair with excitement while writing it. If you are really happy or really sad to announce something important, wouldn’t you like a human reaction? Some euphoria, elation, tears, a punch in the face?

I receive long text messages every day with information and explanations that I don’t bother reading. They’re boring, and annoy me. In the time it took someone to write me three laborious texts, they could have called, spoken to me, made some tea and done the vacuuming. People who put a smiley face at the end of a sentence, in an attempt to show feeling, show no feeling. I wish there was a symbol for two fingers in the air, because that’s the one I’d send back.

The telegram has been responsible for reporting world-shattering events when there were very few other options. Now we have options, and people opt for the least humane one.

My mum, in an attempt to get down with the ut of today, asked me to teach her to text. Now she constantly texts me in block capitals, so it looks as if she is still angry and annoyed with me after all these years.

People don’t even write by hand any more. My doctor prints out prescriptions from his computer; even my mechanic prints out a receipt. I get typed Christmas cards and my friends send me emails. I get very excited when hand-written letters come through my door, only because they rarely do.

When I was at school, the girls used to write letters to each other, even though we sat side by side and spoke to one another all day. I think it was a way of expressing intimate things we were afraid to say when we were 14 and too shy. We used to write things like, “You are my best friend, can’t wait to sit next to you in maths.”

I miss the personal method of communication. Once the pen was mightier than the sword, now it seems the keyboard is mightier than the pen.