It is important to stay connected and maintain the balance between the real and the virtual world.
Ashraf, Mona and their two children constitute a happy family. Ashraf is an Executive in a leading pharmaceutical company, while Mona is a home maker. All of them have their own likes and programs. But they stay connected 24×7, though not as much with each other as with their friends and relatives. They message each other of their daily whereabouts, barely looking at each other or having normal conversations. The house is in a mess all the time and the maid runs it largely. They often order food from restaurants. They all are active online the whole time, sending and sharing messages, checking blogs, posing pictures on Instagram, checking Facebook etc.
It’s a typical sketch of an elite or middle-class family in urban India.
All around us, from morning till night, the advertisements beckon us with messages, alluring us towards a (dis)connected world. They appear like:
Surf more at High Speed, Play New Games, Upload faster, Shop Online, Read your favourite classics Online, Message Unlimited, Send unlimited photos faster, Search for your long-lost friends, Stay connected day and night, Order flowers Online, send a gift to someone Online, search for your dream home Online, Find your dream girl/boy on this website …
They all urge us to live life as conveniently as possible. Look at a screen for hours, and get what you want — be they flowers, fruits, life partner, house, friends, entertainment, gifts, clothes and whatever you want. All the companies and all the trends around us convey one message: ‘Do not get up’. Do not go out to buy vegetables and fruits; do not talk with the vendors; do not go to shops and have a chat with the sales personnel or fellow customers. In short, do not go out and say hello to your neighbour and do not take a bus or train and go to your friend’s house for a cup of tea… Stay (dis)connected with your friends and neighbours 24×7, online…!
Life is becoming easy, isn’t it? Just stay glued to a few screens. Do not get up early morning to go to the temple, but switch on the laptop and take the darshan online. Do not go and give bear hugs to friends on their birthdays, but just send cakes, cards and greeting cards online, do not even visit the card shop to buy a card for any occasion anymore. Send e-cards, save money and save yourself the joy of sending the real happiness on real faces when one gets a greeting card! Do not go to book shops; do not bargain with the book-sellers on the pavement; simply order an e-book online and read it on your screen…!
Millions are being spent to ensure that we sit at one place and become loners, and making this exercise of not getting up attractive and easy. From the time that the morning dawns, we reach out for our cell phones or laptops and keep looking at the bright and smart screens till the time we hit the bed. Of course, some smarter ones amongst us keep getting up in between their sleep to keep checking the screen. After all, it is important to stay connected and maintain the balance between the real and the virtual world. Little do we realize that while getting addicted to the virtual world, we might very well become unfit for the real world. In the real world, there are real people, real emotions, real smiles, real fights, real chats, real shopping and real communication. But then, all this requires effort, and sometimes, real things also become unpleasant. Sitting snugly in a corner, staring at a cold screen is neither difficult nor unpleasant.
As far as people are concerned, we do not have to bother how they are or what are their reactions or facial expressions. Simply keep typing and chatting. As far as shopping is concerned, one doesn’t have to inhale polluted air or walk on packed pavements or be out in hot and humid conditions. Simply sit on an armchair at home and keep placing orders. Even during festivals such as Raksha Bandhan, no need to get out and buy rakhee from a shop and then sweets from another and then take the trouble of going over to the brother’s place and tying the rakhee. Just keep sitting and place the order online!
Apart from what this idea of not allowing us to get up from one place will do to our bodies, the consequences will be dangerous for our mind too. We are being encouraged to just live by ourselves, while clutching one smart gadget. The mind will very soon not be comfortable with real people and real issues around us. Within a house and within an office people send Whatsapp messages to each other, calling each other out of their rooms for lunch or asking how one is doing etc. Parents and children, sitting in different rooms are amused on receiving messages from each other on the screen. Even if they sit together at dinner tables, each one is looking at the screen in between, while distractedly putting some morsels in the mouth. The mind could soon get uncomfortable in large gatherings or even in one-to-one relations. People are resorting to messaging instead of meeting up upfront, if they have something unpleasant to communicate. While much is being discussed about the lifestyle diseases increasing at an alarming rate, and also about the poor communication skills in our children these days, it is the impact on the mind and the lonely lives which must be our primary concern.
The companies, in order to push sales, will definitely encourage us to remain glued online. It may seem rosy now, and one might marvel that we can very easily see the variety of options and we don’t have to go to crowded roads, shops and pavements. We are essentially social beings. We need to socialise and socialising definitely does not mean that we have hundreds of online friends and a dozen of groups on whatsapp. Sending forwarded messages on enriching life and positive thinking to all friends in all groups, at one-go early in the morning, is definitely not the way to stay in touch with friends. We need to get up, meet friends, hug them, wipe a tear or two and hold hands to feel good and reassured.
Whatever is easy and convenient may not always be the right thing for us. The sense of pride that we are able to afford sleek gadgets is highly unfounded and over-rated. The instances of depression, loneliness and living-on-the-edge have grown to alarming proportions. It is important to not sever our ties with real people, real issues, real talks, and real angry outbursts. It is important to get up and leave the cold bright screens aside and directly talk with friends, family members, neighbours and even strangers. If we talk, we learn new perspectives on life, emotions and circumstances. If we were not so connected to our gadgets, we would not be so disconnected with our own selves and those around us. The more we get up, go out and observe how life is treating others, stronger and sturdier we shall be.
Children have begun to give options to their parents. They point out to them that it is not important to go to a school since there are options of joining an online course and attending virtual lectures in a virtual classroom. Of course, an exceptionally qualified teacher from a reputed University will be accessible to thousands of children without the pupils ever getting up and taking the efforts to join that University. However, can life in a real college be compared with online classrooms? Can teaching online be compared with real teaching in a real classroom where a teacher can walk up to a teary-eyed student who is facing a personal tragedy and give a reassuring pat on the back? Can a bond between the two be built while staring at a bright screen?
Teaching apps have come; shopping apps have come; entertainment apps have come; gaming apps have come; quizzing apps have come… A MotheringApp could be the next smart app on our smart gadgets…! A mother, after giving birth to a child, need not get up either. A smart gadget could be tied around the infant’s neck or the crib, and the virtual mother could coo the baby; sing lullabies at fixed times; blow virtual kisses and talk sweet-nothings and as the child grows up, could even give talks on ethics and morality. Wonderful, isn’t it?
Ashraf and Mona are proud of the lavish life they are able to enjoy and give to their children. They are connected with the world, but much more disconnected with each other!
(Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academician, and a freelance writer/columnist. She writes for several newspapers, magazines, web-portals and academic publications and has authored five books)
By Dr. Navniit Gandhi