Tuesday, Feb 07, 2023

Black Sheep

Do we need another app to stay connected?

It’s increasingly rare to see people pull out a BlackBerry,once proudly flaunted by the rich,powerful and elite. Hark back to a time,not so long ago,when researchers actually explored what it was about the BlackBerry that made it so addictive,giving it the popular nickname of Crackberry. After all,nobody has ever called the iPhone,the cocaine-phone. Now,less than 10 years later,even the minimally tech-savvy prefer Android devices since e-mail,BlackBerry’s USP,is relatively less important compared to social networking,Instagram-ing and photo-clicking,for all of which it falls woefully short. So,what explains the mad craze to download BBM,BlackBerry’s incredibly popular messaging app,that as of last week is available on other phones? People are breathlessly posting their new pins as status updates on Facebook. Twitter is abuzz with reviews,with users expressing relief at being back on BBM. Since the Canadian company is besieged with requests for fresh pins,probably a welcome change since they’ve been clobbered by competition in the smartphone segment,there is a long waiting. New users get a mail once you reach the front of the queue.

Surely,we don’t need yet another way to stay connected? Since BlackBerry became uncool,other messaging apps have moved ahead. Consider this,though I am far from being even remotely technologically inclined,I am on Viber,WhatsApp,Facetime and BBM. In addition to this there’s Gmail chat,Facebook chat and of course SMS. And spare me the sarcasm,I don’t need to be told this indiscriminate,shameful availability is pathetic — my only solace is that far from being an anomaly,I am the norm. I am cheerfully egged on by my peer group to download every single messaging app in existence since everybody seems to live in permanent terror of somehow getting left behind.

In the 20th century,novels about the future predicted apocalypse of the nuclear kind,great and complete devastation or the end of humanity. Now,in the 2010 bestseller, Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story,our dystopian vision imagines a world dominated by media and retail,a constant,never-ending stream of reality shows and social networking. We all live with the suspicion that something out there merits our attention more than what we’re actually doing,which probably explains BBM’s nostalgic popularity. In Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction author Leo Babauta rues the erosion of our free time and argues that our discourse,online and otherwise,is stilted and puerile because we have too many simultaneous events competing for our attention. It’s physically much harder to read books,especially the kind that need deep concentration because it’s so much easier to pick up your phone and scroll down,to read a random opinion on Kate Middleton’s outfit at Prince George’s christening.

The ultimate smartphone,in my opinion,would be one that would allow you to opt out,for a few hours a day,at least. I know you can always turn the browser off but the temptation to switch it on remains and that’s a distracting enough thought. It should not allow you to turn to surf websites,update information,and magically become purely a phone,like the Nokias of old. The idea of a digital diet has caught on all over the world with the software Freedom for laptops,that allow you to disconnect from the internet for as long as you want. Or the age of super speed broadband can leave you weirdly disconnected from yourself. It’s a thought I will ponder on while downloading i-Sync.

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Leher Kala

First published on: 28-10-2013 at 00:05 IST
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