I turned 32 today.
I started the day responding to birthday greetings from friends. The greetings arrived through a mix of messaging platforms — Viber, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, Wechat — and a variety of formats — GIFs, emoticons, stickers, and good old text.
I wrapped up the day with a family video call through Facetime. The combination of live audio and video helped establish a sense of shared presence. We were thousands of miles away from one another, but it felt as though we were all chatting and laughing in the same physical space.
In any other era, being away from home for fifteen months (and counting) would have been too long to bear. Today, communication apps are able to bend space-time to bring family and friends closer together.
I would venture even further. These days, digital channels one-up real-life encounters by offering more varied ways to express and connect.
For our wider social circles, we can now choose from a whole arsenal of tools to spark connection— from the low commitment of pressing ‘Like’ on a post, to the moderate commitment of responding with a sticker on an Instagram story, to the high commitment of sending a direct message to an old friend.
For our close inner circles, we can now choose between synchronous communication like video calls for intimate face-to-face chats, or asynchronous communication like group chats where we could jump in, post a funny meme, then jump back out of the conversations. Soft connections invariably form among members of the same group chat, the rhythm of group chat notifications synchronizing the background music of everyday life to the same drumbeat.
It’s easier than ever to stay in touch. We now carry the world in our pockets, along with the ability to compress miles into inches with a single button tap, and the power to rekindle a friendship with an animated sticker.
On this day in particular, I am grateful for the miracle of digital communication.