Our tales are in danger of being tucked away on phones and floating lost in the digital ether in this extraordinary year.
I find my grandma’s letter – Big Nana (because she was big), not Little Nana (who wasn’t) – written in her familiar curly script as I withdraw the last of my belongings from my parents’ home this year.
“Last Sunday I went to D’s 80th birthday luncheon – an exciting gathering of old timers! One old lady said how awful she looked these days standing in front of the bathroom mirror (naked). Almost all of us joined in the horror stories – even some of the men! Amazing what a few sherries [sic]can do.”
Amazing what a letter can do, too.
I can sense her spirit piercing through the document by reading it a decade and a half later.
Old letters and diaries, those unofficial historical accounts, I love them.
They juxtapose the personal and the mundane with unfolding movements and political events, private, often intended for a single audience.
I expect perspectives that I don’t expect from official documents from letters and diaries: satire, self-reflection, motivational tips, something revelatory.
Australia’s highest court ordered the publication of the “palace letters.” this year. The contents of the correspondence between the governor-general and Buckingham Palace about the 1975 ouster of the Whitlam government were evidently so rich that to keep them hidden, the government paid a million dollars in legal fees.
“I watched the ‘Insiders’ on ABC,” reads my grandma’s note. Minister of Communications Helen Coonan has been interviewed about media deregulation and a few other items.
All kinds of stuff appear to be up in the air.
Rarely do people write letters anymore. We’ve got messages right now, emails, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook. In 2020, the strangest year of all, what kind of records are we making now?
Imagine heading into lockdown with Melbourne.
What was’ in the air’ in 2004, when the Minister of Communications appeared on Insiders, was much more disruptive than anybody at that time might have guessed.
It was the year that Mark Zuckerberg created, in his Harvard dorm room, what would become Facebook. Google was six years of age already. The two firms are now taking up 80% of Australia’s digital advertising revenue, news organisations have been decimated, and thousands of journalists have lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, the rate at which data pings across the globe is only rising.
There are 2.7 billion monthly active users on Facebook, 2 billion on WhatsApp and 1 billion on Instagram.
The news cycle has narrowed from weeks and days to just hours after Donald Trump entered the U.S. political scene – also the amount of time Trump takes between his tweets. He threatens to spin on his own axis this year.
I sent a message to a friend in London in February to speak about the escalating spread of the coronavirus.
I tell, “One thing [China] has in its favor is that it can lock down a whole region like Wuhan,” “People would freak out if they tried that in Australia, don’t you think?”
“True,” he answers. “Imagine locking down a major city like Melbourne or something, that would be insane.”
Experts say closed WhatsApp chat groups are the most fertile misinformation breeding ground.
A friend in one such group shared a connection in May to a documentary called Plandemic, which was circulated on YouTube and peppered with false Covid facts. “Have you guys seen this yet? Watch it before it gets pulled down.”
Another friend sends a message asking whether it’s more difficult for officials to keep the number of cases down by doing coronavirus testing. She writes, “I’m becoming a conspiracy theorist,”
When the government orders a 14-day quarantine for people arriving from overseas, I chat with a friend in Texas, “I think you should come back to Australia right away. There won’t be many more flights. Everything is grounded.
Australia will close its border on Friday at 9 p.m.
A few weeks after the Sydney lockdown, after the British prime minister tested positive for covid, a friend texts to ask how I’m doing. “I’m fine,” I say. “I feel a bit like a human sieve for the news and less resilient than usual.
I’m even getting upset about Boris Johnson!”
“I feel sorry for Carrie Symonds,” comes the reply. “My empathy draws the line at BoJo.”
I feel the need to address the pandemic in some for