If you had not been to a place for some time, when you go back 10 years later, it feels like you have travelled through a time warp. That’s what I experienced the past few days. The road used to be tiny, but now it is huge. There are new signs for the roads. The colours of the buildings look different. A lot of trees are gone. Some shops are still at the same place, while others no longer there. The place don’t quite look the same as before. Not much seems to look familiar.

What is more interesting is that it seems as if the outside has changed a lot, but the inside has not changed much. This inside is not the physical, but the intangible force of culture and the unspoken rules. The exterior has changed, the interior has not. The memories of the place lingers.

What else have changed over the past 10 years?

Well, at that time, there was no iPhone nor smartphone yet. I was using my trusty Nokia E61 with a Blackberry-like keyboard, and then I switched to a Sony Symbian Walkman phone that had a fingernail (not fingertips) touchscreen and supported hours of offline MP3 playback. There was no 3G/4G nor WhatsApp nor Instagram. Facebook was just starting to be popular. The main mode of communication was SMS as almost everyone had unlimited SMSes. There were no endless group chats. Facebook didn’t have Messenger yet, but we just started to add people has friends. We were just being disrupted by this new world of this thing we now call “social media”, but we do not know the full effects of it yet, as it was restricted mostly to our ADSL/Cable Internet connections. Yes there was no fibre to the home yet and we couldn’t surf the internet on our “dumbphones”.

So then, what did we do in our free time? What did we do when we have idle time during our daily commute? It took me awhile to recall, but most of us would try to read books/magazines, stare into space, or fall asleep. If you had an iPod, you would listen to music. Nobody walked around with our eyes glued to our phones (since most people can SMS without looking at the screen, haha).

What did we do in our idle time at work? Perhaps, some doze off or watch TV in the lounge. There was no Facebook newsfeed for people to be distracted with, except for MSN Messenger or ICQ, perhaps? But even with those instant messaging tools, there was no concept of an “endless scroll” of a “feed” or “stories” that you could be consuming. Things were not really viral. “Sharing” funny comics only happened in the form of email forwarding. Oh yes, there wasn’t Youtube or Buzzfeed either, the only video content that you’d watch is on your TV or in the cinema. And those are longform content, not cute cats and dogs.

I remembered the days where my school friend would call me and ask for directions. Google Maps didn’t quite exist in our Nokia phones definitely, and there was no app for you to check your next bus timing. You simply wait patiently at the bus stop. These days, the moment we reach the bus stop, we check our phones impatiently to see how long is the next bus coming, and then decide whether to feel anxious or not. Not sure if that exactly is a good thing. Booking a taxi also requires you to call the taxi hotline, which is often jammed and useless during peak hours. No one shared their private cars or offered to pick you up, since GrabHitch isn’t really a thing!

Camera phones were not as popular too. Even if your phone had a camera, it is probably less than 1 megapixels. I think there was no selfie camera too. Taking group photos used to require a tripod or someone else’s help. You can’t use your phone to scan the QR code to unlock your Mobike because neither of them exist. Now the thought of not being able to whip out my camera to capture the sunset in front of me and posting it immediately on Instagram makes me feel somewhat “handicapped”. What?!

Our attention span was a lot longer. (If you have read this far, good job!)

By chance, I am now reading a book titled The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice. In the book, he talks about how Facebook has brought about a new norm, and because of that, people had to spontaneously adapt to it and find new ways of living and connecting. As a result, the lines between acquaintances and close friends have blurred, and there is less distinction of what is considered real community. Following the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, he proposes that we should conduct our online and offline relationships with intentionality, humility and authenticity. Food for thought: how much of your Instagram/Facebook communication is intentional or authentic? How many of your friends do you have real and authentic relationships with in the real world?

The other side effect of being “hyperconnected” is that we are constantly distracted and we feel the urge to check our phones every other minute. We are seldom “in the moment”, in the present and the now. Our feelings of now is being affected by endless notifications and newsfeed. These causes our relationships in the real word to be less intentional and authentic. Not that being online is totally a bad thing, but occasionally, we need to touch base with the present.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.