I am a self-confessed cellphone addict. Before my eyes open in the morning, I groggily grope for my phone to ‘plug’ me in to the world and at night, my phone sleeps beside me, measuring my sleep cycle and resting heart rate.
I reach for it as soon as I see the first sign of a traffic jam, and it has rescued me from countless boring meetings (I’m a Candy Crush champion) and exhausting first dates (so sorry to leave like this but I just got an urgent call). I’m not alone – Harvard Business School researchers estimate that 70 per cent of smartphone users check their phone within an hour of waking up and 51 per cent check their phone compulsively during vacations. In fact, there are now several centers that offer rehab for cellphone and technology addiction just as they would for other disorders.
But many of us grew up in the prehistoric BC (Before Cellphone) times with virtually no access to anything virtual. I have recently started forcing myself to put away my cellphone for half an hour at a time. In one of these recent forced hiatuses, I started to wonder about our BC time – what did we use to live and learn, how did we love and fight? Here are seven things that we did differently:
BC Play: We walked around the neighborhood with nothing but a ball and the confidence to play with whoever came to the garden that evening. We made friends with all the neighborhood kids – it didn’t matter where they went to school or where their parents went to work. Social standing was banished, left standing out at the entrance of the playground. The only rule that we had to follow was getting home before dark and so, those long summer evenings stretched on endlessly sprinkled with catching grasshoppers and cricket matches and hopscotch with anyone who wanted to play.
Now: In today’s hyper-connected and hyper-scheduled world, parents set up scheduled playdates that have precise start times, end times and an agreed upon list of children. Did I mention predetermined activities?
BC Arguments: A friendly argument with your buddy over country capitals could stretch on for days, even weeks. There were endless possibilities of pulling a ‘fast one’ by stating your case confidently: “Zurich is definitely, hundred percent the capital of Switzerland”. You ran a good chance of emerging triumphant since there was no immediate way for your friend to verify your bogus information.
Now: All arguments are settled in seconds by simply “Googling it”. In theory, this should lead to better information but I recently had to explain to my mother that dog-pig hybrids do not exist even though she insists she has seen it on a website!
BC School: We actually learned spellings and mathematics. Gasp. If you wanted to convert the price of a cool CD (remember CDs!) into rupees – you actually had to do some mental calisthenics (a word we learned to spell) instead of asking your phone to do the honours.
Now: Calculater, kalcuelator. Whatever. Autocorrect will sort it out.
BC Love: The prank call, the crank call, landline calls were endless! Remember the way your heart would thump as you huddled together with your best friend dialing your ‘crush’ from her house when her parents went out of town. If you had your calculations correct and had managed to get that CD, you could even play some Brian Adams in the background. Of course, he knew it was you calling but without caller ID – you, him and your best friend (an integral part of the romance) could all pretend a little longer.
Now: Send a thumping heart emoji and then decode the emoji you get in return.
BC Photographs: Going on family vacations meant the compulsory family huddle in a scenic spot to take the perfect photograph. Each photograph was carefully curated because constant snap-snapping was obviously not an option. And then of course, there were some priceless camera moments such as when your dad accidentally opened the camera flap exposing (and thereby ruining) every carefully taken photo. I remember looking from my dad’s trembling hand to my mom’s scary expression (kind of like watching a Grand Slam match point) and knowing that I would never need a photograph to remember that moment!
Now: Every moment, noteworthy or not, has a million phone cameras zooming in on it. Vacations are spent Instagramming photographs that are set up to score the most likes starting from a photo of the premium airline ticket (#thisishowweroll) to the deconstructed crème brulee (#foodcoma #sostuffed) at dinner to the evening shenanigans #aboutlastnight
BC Conversations: When we spoke to someone, we actually had a real conversation with them that involves both listening and speaking.
Now: A conversation today usually means monosyllabic (there’s that spelling skill again!) responses while WhatsApping ten people and four chat groups while checking Facebook.
BC Sense of Direction: We were constantly getting lost mostly because “navigation” involved the paanwala giving you instructions such as “neem ke ped ke baad wala left lena”. But there were also so many times when getting lost was better than where we headed in the first place.
Now: With Siri and Google Maps, we can safely forget about diversions, little trails and long cuts. We stay safe, travel the beaten path and stick to the straight and narrow. #forgetaboutadventure #robot
I know phones are necessary but I cant help feeling that we have chained ourselves to the ultimate frenemy. Phones can be productive, but they also has the capacity to enslave us, control us and rob us of interactions – with others, with ourselves – that are so unique to the human experience. After years of constant cellphone usage, I find myself needing to create blocks of time where I lock away my cellphone in a drawer so that I am not constantly interrupted by notifications and pings. And those uninterrupted moments can feel luxurious and contemplative like a long summer evening from my childhood. Happy emoji.