Every couple of decades the human race has a new obsession to obsess over. Field data is collected, analysts pore over the figures, psychologists make grim predictions of modifications in future behavioural patterns, environmentalists see an end of our planet and life as we know it, even as opportunists have a field day offering some quick-fix solutions and making a few bucks playing on irrational fears. Right now the apocalypse that stares at us is visions of an earth straight from that lovable 2008 movie “WALL-E”…remember the zombie-like people of earth riding around their space resort on hovering chairs which give them a constant feed of TV and video chatting. They drink all of their meals through a straw out of laziness and bone loss, and are all so fat that they can barely move. Only in this case the screen is a smaller one in our hands that is constantly hooked to the Internet, everyone mindlessly clicking to open their Web browser not with any conscious intent to create but more out of a reflexive desire to “passively consume content.” So the new mantra advocated is “disconnect to reconnect” as write ups in the print and other media flash the ominous warning “Did you know, on an average citizens spend more than half of their waking life staring at a screen. The negative psychological, social and cultural impact is real. Things need to change now before it is too late…etc etc…”
The pertinent question is why all the uproar over our supposedly out-of-control Internet and phone addictions? Are we really right to be worried about this obsessive behaviour. When you see so many people around tapping away, texting, emailing, Facebooking etc, even while conversing with another, it does seem as if they are only partially engaged with what is real and in front of them and are lost in the temptations of the virtual world. In many cases, it’s undoubtedly the beginning of an unhealthy relationship with tech-use and you need to question it, unplug, develop a certain mindfulness in the company of others and remember to “look-up!” The problem is when you commit to weaning yourself from technology, it must be a deliberate choice. Simply having it withheld from you does not work. As in so many other things, it’s a condition not easy to impose from the outside. The other day at an extended family get together, someone suggested a little game…we were all supposed to put our phones on silent-mode and keep them screen down in the centre of the table. The rule was that if anyone gave in to the temptation of checking their calls/messages/emails they would have to foot the bill for the evening. Furtive, longing glances were directed by almost all towards that pile of phones and when nearly at the end one youngster finally decided enough was enough and picked up their phone, the swiftness with which everyone else reached out was almost comical…a scene straight out of some Western movie with every gunslinger quick to the draw!!
Maybe the redemption lies in the fact that there is still a large (and growing) population of users who deserve credit for their treatment of the smartphone/device as a tool that makes life easier and enjoyable and not an appendage you can’t live without. They remember important phone numbers; they can navigate and find a place without GPS if need be; they broadly know what their day’s scheduled activities are without having to check their calendars; they surf the gloriously vast and alluring internet world but on their own terms, to add an additional dimension to life not to substitute it; they understand the difference between the anxiety created by FOMO (a.k.a fear of missing out) and the liberating JOMO (joy of missing out!!). Ultimately you have to remember that cardinal rule…daily moderation always works better than any unsustainable, limited period fad-diet.