At the turn of this century, I witnessed mobile phones descend from a convenience to a nuisance. I have an interesting experience to share in this context. A conversation with my husband was being punctuated by the incessant ringing of his phone. Frustrated, I called him up. He looked at my number flashing on his screen and told me that I had mistakenly dialled his number. I asked him to pick up so that we could have an uninterrupted chat. So aided by satellites, sitting across each other, talking into our phones, we had an unhindered tête-à-tête while the rest of the world rightfully got a ‘ busy tone’ when it tried to reach us.
The situation has worsened since. In this world of decreasing attention spans and increasing connectivity technology keeps us connected with everyone except the person right in front of us. Sadly, I too, have been sucked into this vortex of ‘ multitasking’. So while I patronisingly grudge the lack of focus in youngsters, I am equally guilty. I don’t remember a single conversation in the recent past when I have not snuck a peek at my phone for that irrelevant message, mail or status update. Not that anyone notices not getting my undivided attention. They are busy fiddling with their own gadgets.
The availability of cameras in our smart phones has aggravated the situation. We take countless pictures which end up in nameless albums that are seldom viewed. As we compulsively capture every occasion, every celebration for posterity we forget to enjoy the moment itself. Somewhere between adjusting the light and the shutter speed, between that perfect smile and that flattering camera angle the moment passes. In an increasingly voyeuristic society, life is all about that cheerful profile pic. Looking happy is more important than being happy.
Dining out at a restaurant recently I looked up from my phone and noticed that on most tables people were busy on theirs. Waiting to be served I watched them as they distractedly ate their meal, half heartedly participating in the ongoing conversation, not caring to make eye contact.
Nostalgia gripped me as I reminisced the good old jaw wags, the carefree guffaws, the dining table banter that lacked ‘encyclopaedic’ precision. A time before readily available information took away speculation from our chats. Since relationships survive on small talk I wondered if relationships will be the next casualty.
A few days later I was relieved to read that some corporate houses are fighting gadgets’ intrusion in human conversation. On valentines a leading network provider offered to safeguard mobile devices at the front desk so that patrons could enjoy their meal undisturbed. A few restaurants across the world have gone further and banned phones in their establishments, some offer discounts to families who shun the phone during a meal.
Some introspection and I wondered if memories needed technology. I vividly remember my father’s ear to ear grin when I got into medical school and the multi-coloured flowers on my favourite frock. I remember the frayed hole in my jeans that I continued to wear long after their expiry date and the aroma of my mother’s cooking. I can still feel the wind in my hair as I rode my cycle to school, hear the hurried footsteps as we played hide and seek on hot summer afternoons. Events ably recorded by a mental camera, a little faded like my jaded memory but reasonably well preserved.
And so I did it. Relying completely on my inbuilt camera and random access memory, I enjoyed a picture perfect sunset with my bare eyes, not from behind the lens of my phone. I had fought the urge to freeze it and show the world what I had seen. It took great resolve but I had finally broken free.
Well… almost, I am, after all, sharing with you what I didn’t share with them!
( carried by the Hindustan Times on 13/11/2017)