No more telegrams STOP It's sad STOP

In the tiny telegram, a pithy paper version of the text message, lay the essential power of words and human communication. In its unpunctuated brevity - A GIRL STOP MOTHER FINE STOP - lay an entire family's joy. In its urgent telling - FATHER ILL STOP COME STOP - lay foreboding in all its conciseness.

Sometimes it wasn't even the message; just the messenger could frighten. As Mr Joseph L. Galloway wrote in a US News and World Report story, the death of soldiers in Vietnam in the 1960s was delivered with a coldness: "The telegrams were simply handed over to taxi drivers to deliver. Some women collapsed at the sight of a cab pulling up outside; others huddled inside, refusing to answer the knock."

As a journalist I am conflicted: nostalgic as India sends out its last telegram today, yet aware that information must move faster than a hungover postman. Communication hasn't just changed our view of the world, it has altered the world. The telegram had to go because, overtaken by technology, it was never going to elicit headlines in a twittering 2013 that read: Telegrams Help the Arab Spring Blossom.

Telegrams were once a journalistic tool of another time and at another pace. Now, if he were alive, Mr Tenzing Norgay - Twitter handle @ManOnTop - would be tweeting his ascent of Everest the same day. In truth, he and Sir Edmund Hillary reached the peak on May 29th, 1953, but news of it travelled to England only on June 2. By telegram, of course.

It seemed a romantic era, in a less cluttered, less needy world, yet it is hard to pine for it in a time of sophisticated communication tools - the laptop, Internet, SMS. Yet change always comes laced with loss. In the slow passing of longhand writing, typewriters, telexes and telegrams, there is something of ourselves and our art that we leave behind. A bit like tennis players and wooden rackets.

People cling to those rackets as journalists do to their typewriters. As if their own histories are imprinted on those keys. This week, 52 years after his death, an Ernest Hemingway typewriter is up for auction. Laptops, despite our stored family photos within, will never be that personal. Nor will they produce such a memorable concert.

Newsrooms once echoed to the typewriting music of tap-clack-click-zing, a sound so famous that in the gangster Al Capone's time, Thompson submachine guns were known as "Chicago typewriters".

The typewriter wasn't just a machine. It carried with it - for journalists - the image of a rugged, intellectual life. An image artfully replicated in the film Good Night And Good Luck, where David Strathairn, playing the journalist Edward R. Murrow, sits alone, with a lit cigarette, fingers bouncing off keys, translating grand ideas onto paper.

Of course, no one ever shows you the gnarled ribbons, misfiring keys and deadline time when paper ran out. Typewriters could be hell, laptops are bliss - they require no sprint through a crowd to the telex man at a tournament with the sly promise of a monetary benefit if he sent your typed match copy first.

The laptop allows us to tidily move copy around, change our minds, find information even as we write, rather than wade through newspaper clippings in corner libraries (actually I kind of liked that).

Yet on typewriters, with no easy Control V, each word seemed more preciously composed. Perhaps whitening out mistakes was too laborious. Perhaps we wrote cleaner copy with a finer focus for the only open window was the brain - no blinking chat from the girl in the next desk, no pinging mail from a boss.

In a creative profession, writers and photographers have become different composers on new instruments. Former Straits Times chief photographer Francis Ong once lugged around a portable enlarger and processing chemicals, turned hotel bathrooms into darkrooms, and hung his film as carefully as a woman does washed lingerie.

His digital descendants - children of the auto focus and motor drive - carry a lighter load, make fewer errors, and are quicker. Shoot and send. This modern photographer is an equal artist, but Mr Ong's breed, who owned no LCD screen to compulsively check if a photo was fine, had to trust their instinct. Each shot required careful composing for no delete button existed; instead every frame mattered on expensive film which had to be tediously processed.

Photographers, journalists, writers, often work on feel and comfort, and it can be linked to their implements. Authors can be disdainful of typewriters and laptops, preferring the thoughtful flow of longhand and the intimacy of the exercise - from choice of pen, to finish of paper, to the motion of the hand rippling and rolling over a notepad.

Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood, who described himself to The Paris Review as a "completely horizontal author. I can't think unless I'm lying down", wrote first drafts in longhand.

But we can barely write any more as a species. Literacy tests asking if we can "read and write" will soon become "read and type".

Journalists use paper infrequently and you can tell who the older reporters at press conferences are, for they are scribbling into pads, using a private shorthand, amid a modern army carrying phones that tape voices but never record the full person.

But Confucius once said "only the wisest and stupidest of men never change", which means the rest of us have to. So we appreciate the phone can tape, photograph, tweet pictures, mail audio files and call the wife. When Samuel Morse sent the first telegraph message, "What hath God wrought?", the answer that he never received was "a brilliant, connected future".

But even as we recognise our new tools are more agile, our older instruments remain precious for inevitably they belonged to our youth. Ravi Velloor, foreign editor of this paper, is a modern man but inextricably linked to his typewriter. For it sat on his shaking knees, inside a moving car, as he hammered out reports while racing across Delhi on the day former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.

Mr Velloor still has the typewriter. Others have obsolete phones. To give them away is to give up a little of themselves. But I will be happy to post their memorabilia to the Newseum in Washington DC to sit alongside John F. Kennedy's typewriter. We can alert them it is coming with a last telegram from India.

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