By Shashi Narasimhiah
It is hard to argue that the net effect of technology isn’t positive. In fact it saves our lives these days, no less. Let us accept that first up. That said, there is a cost to us and it is all about how and how much we apply technology. The combination of Smartphone-Facebook-WhatsApp-snapchat-Instagram etc are indeed designed to grab as much of our attention as possible. Most posts portray that each of our lives is as “ammmmmazing or aaaaawesome”as it ever can be. If we look at another person’s profile/posts, it invariably sounds like they have it all figured out in life, they are the happiest people on the planet, they are surrounded by masses of admirers, they enjoy the most, love the most, connect the most and live life the most. But often, the reality could be different – to say the least.Once upon a time, we used to write long letters on paper, eagerly wait for a snail mail letter or package to be delivered to our home, went to an actual physical Library or a Book Shop, held a hard copy of a newspaper or a glossy paper magazine in a train, roamed the shopping mall with friends to buy a pair of jeans, waited for that day and time of the week for the favourite TV show, actually stood in the queue at a movie theatre to watch a movie. Well, thanks to the immense power of technology – we have all been transported to the world of “instant gratification”. We can instantly connect with people from different parts of the world by way of sharing images and videos, the pair of jeans can be bought on line, TV show and movies can be streamed at your time and place of choice. All this has been made possible by a small hand-held smart phone and various Apps. It has taken over our lives, mind and beyond. As they say big changes that happen in our lives always commence with “small” things!!
By now, we all know that engagement with the phone and social media releases a chemical called dopamine – that is why when we get a text or when our posts receive responses it feels good. Dopamine is the same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, drink, gamble and consume drugs. Meaning – it is highly addictive. BTW, the fear of being without our smartphone next to us is called “Nomophobia”. If we don’t hear from anyone for a while, or if no one responds to our posts, we feel let down. The trauma of being unfriended and ignored on the social media can lead to some consequences in regard to one’s own self-esteem and therefore we are anxious and we keep going back to check on the incoming messages on a constant basis – thus getting entangled in an endless circuit – akin to a “Chakravyooha” – the more we don’t see a response the more we are stuck to the device in anticipation!!And when we get responses, we are again stuck with the device looking, reading and responding!!
For once, if we are rude enough to peep into the neighbouring car at a traffic signal, chances are – the person has his/her head bent down over the wheel – no trophies for guessing what they are doing. Similarly, sometimes while walking, people run into each other – so much so that at some point in the foreseeable future the demand for Guide Dogs may experience a spike since they will need to be shared between the visually impaired as well as the “Nomophobics”. Just for nomophobics these days there are red lights on the road surface at traffic signals.
To describe the Nomos a new term SMOMBIES has been coined in Germany. Many major cities across the world (Honolulu for example), have commenced advertisements calling for people to walk “Eyes Up”. A study by Guide Dogs Australia has found that more than a third of the visually impaired people using the white cane were bumped into by people engrossed in their phones and almost half of those using a white cane got knocked over!! In some cities fines have been introduced for texting while crossing roads. The busy Hong Kong has a massive issue of “distracted walking”.
The Nomophobic addiction has reached such a stage that I have observed people on their smart phones and on social media at unusualsituations –during a meeting at the work place, during a Bhajan session – when a bhajan or a discourse is being presented, at a temple when the “Maha Mangalaarati” is happening, two “friends” sitting opposite each other in a restaurant with both being on their phones, at family dinners, when on hospital bed immediately after a procedure, even when in toilets. Spouses exchange texts within the same house!!I have come across suit-clad youngsters waiting for an interview– instead of sitting upright confidently and thinking about the interview, they are bending down and checking their social media. But this one really takes the cake – a squatting vibhuti and dhoti-clad priest in India busily chanting the mantras, moderating a religious ceremony in front of a big gathering, but at the same time having his mobile device hung around his neck and checking messages during the process!!
Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRYv_2JRCT0
Our society has a combination of age, place and time restrictions on smoking, alcohol consumption, gambling etc and currently we have very limited restrictions on the use of mobile devices and social media despite its above described dopamine driven addictive nature (restriction limited to while driving, but only partly practiced). A smart phone with all social media apps in our hand is comparable to up a liquor cabinet, cigarette carton and gambling machines and telling the people – if you feel like it go for it, it is all free and unlimited and is not a taboo either!! In short – access to this technology is analogous to letting us use mind numbing drugs on a continuous basis!! Unfortunately we seem to think that this addiction to mobile devices and social media is a fashion and prestige symbol and has become a way out from our apparent boredom and loneliness. Once we get hard-wired with the social media and smartphones, going forward, we may find it difficult to form deep and well-meaning relationships. This means, the relationships will essentially remain virtual, superficial and will only serve the purpose of instant fun and self-gratification. When a significant stress related issue shows up in our life we do not seek out the loved ones and instead turn to our devices which offer temporary relief – exactly like alcohol, smoking and drugs.
What can we do to stay out of this E-Chakravyooha?
If we are at the dinner table with the family and all of us are busy on our devices communicating with people not present at the table – that is an addiction, no doubt there. Similarly in a work meeting if we are sitting with our manager/colleagues, have our mobile phones with us constantly beeping it simply sends out a message to others (and yes my manager included) that what is happening in the meeting room as well as the participants are not as important as the messages. If we have the device next to us when we go to bed at night and end up checking the messages before we talk to the loved ones when we wake up – another indication of an addiction.
In this world of instant gratification concept of patience which is an essential ingredient to meaningful working relationship, job satisfaction, self-confidence, skill-set, love etc which all involve hard work and are all time consuming are completely lost on us. This could even lead to depression, disappointment and dissolution even before one has properly tried to achieve something.
What can we do to stay out of this E-Chakravyooha? Many argue that legislative changes are not the answer. It is more the education in courtesy and behavioural choices that may help. Here are some suggestions:
- Introduce an age limit for devices – not sure how it can be implemented though. But worth thinking;
- Introduce a ban on phone usage while walking;
- Introduce Nomophobia control and prevention in school curriculum;
- Parents/Teachers/Elders to act as examples by practicing strict discipline;
- Set certain time of the day to check the personal phone – jokes can wait!!
- While driving, leave your smart phone in the bag on the floor of the back seat of your car so that it is pretty much impossible to retrieve the device while driving. Take work and emergency calls on hands-free blue tooth only;
- Invention of and application of a smart phone immobiliser when the car engine is running – this one for future;
- Ban mobile phones in the meeting rooms – make that a KPI for managers, employees and contractors – establish phone free zones (similar to smoke free/alcohol free zones);
- Make it mandatory at the work place that people carry only their office provided phone and not their private phone, allow people to make limited emergency family calls and messages to and from office phones;
- Control access to social media on office computers – send the employee/contractor a monthly report on their social media usage;
- Many temples currently ban photography – similarly impose a ban on using the mobile device inside the temple;
- When going to a party, bhajan, pooja or temple leave the device at home and arrange a group of people to have just one device – in case of emergency.
- Stop posting irrelevant things on social media – such as the photo of a meal we are about to have or wishing our family member or girl/boyfriend a happy birthday. Do these things in private;
- Turn off the phone before going to bed;
- Don’t charge your devices by your bed – put it away elsewhere when you go to bed. Old-world alarm clocks are cheap and look nice too, so, buy one and finally
- Despite the advantages of multi-tasking, try some ruthless single-tasking.
Well, we don’t want any of us to be an e-Abhimanyu, do we?