Dec 17, 2010

The lostness of meaning

Modern greetings send mixed messages

Two women rush to give each other a big hug, simultaneously uttering the greeting, ""Minal aidin, ya!""

And their shared response comes almost in unison, ""Sama-sama"" (You, too!).

Minal aidin wal faidzin actually means "from the battle and with victory". This expresses the victory achieved by Muslims after fighting hunger, thirst and temptation during the fasting month of Ramadhan. Most people here mistakenly use it as though it means "mohon maaf lahir dan bathin" (forgive me wholeheartedly).

It's not the only greeting that is garbled in the way we use it.

Another one that is usually used in the wrong way is "dirgahayu", which literally means "long life!". It is usually uttered on anniversaries to wish that someone, or an institution, a long future; "Dirgahayu Indonesia" is an expression to wish this country survives.

But look at the banners posted to welcome Independence Day or Jakarta's anniversary. This expression is printed in various forms. "Dirgahayu Indonesia ke-55" (Long live 55-year old Indonesia) or "Dirgahayu ulang tahun RI ke-55" (Long live the 55th anniversary of the Republic of Indonesia) are the most common greetings on the banners in front of buildings or on pedestrian bridges. When you think about it, both are wrong.

I was recently annoyed by the number of e-mails in my inbox, some containing Idul Fitri greetings and others expressing Christmas wishes. Those greetings came not only from my friends and relatives, but also from those with whom I have never crossed paths.

Not that I dislike greetings -- I love it when people wish me happiness. But, come on, nobody celebrates both religious holidays, and receiving greetings from someone you don't know just leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

"That's what modernity has done," commented Dave, my American colleague who also received some Idul Fitri greetings in his inbox. Nowadays people are too busy to buy cards and write the addresses of friends and relatives personally.

They leave that job to the machines. All they do is forward each greeting they receive to all addresses listed in their folders without bothering to select which greeting should go to whom.

I recall the old times before the Internet and e-mail were invented. One month before the holidays, I used to start shopping for gifts and cards. I would write the addresses and sign the cards personally. And, when I received cards, I checked them carefully and excitedly. I even kept the cards for years. It brought such loving memories.

Marianne Parasiuk, a reader living in Australia, once expressed her feeling about Christmas cards.

"Sending cards might be an ancient thing to do, what with the invention of modern means of communications such as the telephone, the Internet, SMS and all that. But cards carry a lot of messages. It is an exciting process, selecting, buying, writing and sending."

Sending greetings by e-mail, however, is more convenient than sending cards today. And it saves on costs. You do not have to waste time going to the stores, selecting a big pile of cards, and spending a handsome amount of money.

"It is also environmentally friendly," says Anthony Sumampouw, an expert in information technology. "If everyone in the world sent e-cards instead of conventional cards we would save a tremendous amount of paper and, in turn, save tropical forests. From the Internet, you can download greeting cards free of charge. And, sending it is easier. Within seconds, the greeting will arrive at its destination in good shape."

"In good shape?" snorted Miana in response. "I do not open all the e-cards I receive as they cause me trouble. Most of them come in large documents that exceed your storage capacity. And it takes a long time to download them one by one, especially if you don't have a direct connection. Think about the phone bills you have to pay. So, I usually delete them without opening. I know the content anyway."

So, modernity is not all magic. A new means of sending greetings should be invented. Something that is convenient, but also has a personal touch and is environmentally friendly. Anyone who comes up with a solution to this idea is sure to have his or her future made.

-- Carl Chairul

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