There was a time when we just loved some people at the parties because they had an inexhaustible supply of jokes to keep everyone entertained. When we made greetings cards for close friends, visited them or at least called them on their birthdays. There was a time when, while driving back from office, I spoke with my wife about things families talk about. When my kid seated on the backseat of our car animatedly asked me questions about the things he saw on the road. When the first thing I did in the morning is open the balcony door and sit in the fresh morning air.

There was a time when I mostly smiled into someone’s face.

Today, no one tells jokes at the parties or the gatherings. Because everyone knows all the jokes. Everything that can be (and may not be) converted into humour is converted into humour. From the foreign minister’s ‘humanitarian’ efforts to the tantrums of ‘Jhaadubali’. From the prime minister’s selfie contest with himself to even the unfortunate Nepal earthquake.

Today, while driving back home, I and my wife don’t talk much. While I drive, in the darkness of the car’s cabin, the faintly illuminated face of wife would be smiling into the phone, her fingers nimbly gliding on the screen, typing out messages in the microscopic flatness of the on-screen keyboard. According to her, this time, apparently, is best used in responding to all the messages.

The kid  doesn’t ask questions from the back seat; busy he too is, with a discarded phone with a cracked screen, that still affords him the excitement of racing cars.

Birthday wishes have reduced to “HBD RK”, for a friend whose name, let’s say, is Rakesh Kumar.

The first thing I do in the morning is not take in the fresh air, but pick up the mobile rotting by the bedside through the night, and check the endless scroll of messages that have arrived overnight, from friends offloading their love from multiple time zones.

WhatsApp is truly Godsend. Why, it’s even better than Google. One tells you about everything you search for. Magically, the other, tells you things that you don’t even bother thinking about. Everyday I am bombarded with hundreds of messages containing:

  • Teachings from an assortment of wise men
  • One liners telling me the deeper meaning of life
  • Tips for better living, spending, investing, eating, sleeping, marrying, reproducing, dying and everything else
  • Keys (almost a Master Key) to success and better relationships
  • Good mornings and Good nights amply supported by scenic beauty in the background
  • Life’s mantras apparently from scores of ‘successful’ people
  • Messages that if forwarded would bring me good luck (for example, my humble phone will change into an iPhone 6 like an ‘ichhadhari naagin‘!)

In addition, the ‘men only’ groups gets littered with the positive effects of alcohol, photographs of many scantily clad women titled appropriately, the wonders of copulation and every possible story arising out of using the act creatively, and millions of jokes on the relationship between man and women.

I decide that I will watch people more keenly than I usually do. I see that during movie intervals, instead of enjoying a break from the sitting monotony or taking that infinitely relieving leak immediately after the “INTERVAL” text zooms out of the screen, most people pull their phones out and start checking messages (Many, I am sure, would gasp for breath if disallowed to check their phones for an entire hour!). In parties, kids who are old enough to hold mobile phone are busy gaming or drawing doodles, instead of playing with each other. Families sit silently at restaurants nibbling at their phones after ordering food. Speakers on stage message about the other speakers while being seated on the dais. Students message from classrooms. Messages are checked while riding bikes, driving cars. While jogging. Messages are used like we use air.

During many scheduled meetings, messaging is broken by discussions.

People share their wounds. Ouch! Their dishes. The unusual poo of their puppies. Their cars. Their gymming. Beggars on road. View from their balconies. Their sunrise. The new dress from Myntra. Their kid’s unwell faces.

The assault makes me think. I make a few calculations. On any average day, I receive about 80 messages on my WhatsApp. Out of which about 20 are photographs (which I look at for at least 10 seconds each) and there is an average 10 mins of video/audio. Assuming that each message has about 2o words and my reading speed on the phone is about 60 – 70 words per minute, and I spend an average 20 mins typing out messages, and that videos take time to download while I wait for them, I spend upwards of one hour on WhatsApp alone.

One freaking hour, even though I am part of just five or six WhatsApp groups and I do exchange messages conservatively!

I can only imagine how much time some of my more prolific friends must be spending with their phones, unleashing a barrage of messages on unsuspecting souls, drowning them completely with an overdose of smileys, insipid jokes and eternally useless forwards.

So I decide to do something myself. I decide that I will:

  • Not sit with a book or teach my kid and do something important with the mobile phone by my side
  • Not check my messages, not call anyone when I am sharing a limited time with someone; e.g. sitting with someone in a restaurant.
  • Not share jokes, pictures and other forwards mindlessly.
  • Turn off data on my phone during nights, so that I wake up to zero messages in the morning.
  • Use WhatsApp mostly for private messaging and discuss things of common importance.
  • Put most groups on mute so that I check messages only when I find time. I am sure no one will die if I don’t check the messages immediately.

I am happy. But then, I am just happy. The world seems to be happier. I see that people around me are so happy with themselves, looking into their phones and smiling away. Smile so much into messages and cameras that there is almost no time to smile elsewhere.

But then, the screen smiles back at them. Through more smileys.

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