How Phoning Home Has Changed

Messaging services like WhatsApp and FaceTime have made communication easier for the diaspora, but also more fleeting.

Meghna Rao

January 29, 2020

How Phoning Home Has Changed
An aerogram from Chittagong, now Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) to England

For as long as there has been a diaspora, it has been hungry for communication. It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as parchment and ink. Over telegrams, starved for space, only the most important details are shared: sick father, come home. In letters or aerograms, there’s room to go deeper but mail can take a while to travel across the world. As minutes tick away on calling cards, families talk until a beep indicates that they’ve almost run out, rushing to fill in their last few words before they’re disconnected.

Yet, nothing has quenched the diaspora’s need for connection as deeply as the internet. With smartphones and internet access now affordable in most parts of South Asia, South Asians around the world are on somewhat equal communication footing. Today, WhatsApp, which has the most users in South Asia, is a flood of family group threads, play-by-play status updates, and a constant string of affirmation from white babies in frocks holding roses and waving “good morning.” On FaceTime and Skype, others hold more physical check-ins, sometimes even streaming in family members for religious events and weddings. 

“I started with writing very long, drawn-out, flowery letters to my mom,” remembered Wajahat Khan, a journalist from Pakistan who now lives in New York. “I just video called her this morning. Same woman, same mother, same son."