Let’s take it offline

Rajan Luthra

24-04-2018

The conversation started with how my mother ended up being added on a Whatsapp group called the ‘Loreto Convent Asansol’. Girls who left school and their hometown found each other after decades when their daughters and sons got them smartphones.

Social media was bringing people together. Whatsapp groups ensured we belonged to a certain set of people; and sub-consciously forged stronger bonds with friends who would have otherwise drifted with the organic flow and ebb of years. And there was all applause!

Only a few months ago, however, I shot down a part of it; quitting Facebook, abandoning a few Whatsapp groups to clear up space – literally and figuratively. My doubts about it go beyond the big battle of paid content, manipulation of thought, feeding ideas in an echo chamber and stirring up venom in the veins of the community with unaccounted, un-verified hostility. The flourishing online world seems to have been slowly weighing one down under its own glorious might.

Articles float around citing studies highlighting ill moods, lesser happiness in conjunction with social media. Everybody’s best props up on our screens making us lament on our wasted weekend on the couch. And one picture of that delightful dessert is our key to validation.

We’re constantly toying with our phones, clicking, tapping, typing, double clicking, and incessantly scrolling. With shorter breaths, bent necks a world around us sublimes as our fingers work out. Conversations, more often, lose the steam midway with a notification whistle. Haven’t you and your words ever been abandoned, left hanging by your friends’ notification that takes precedence? The distraction levels are alarming. We’re talking less over the pretext of being connected more. A simple chai, a special dinner or even an exotic holiday – the internet in our palms is the greatest leveller, reducing them all to nothing but distracted chats and a million filter clicks.

What is it doing to our brains? The more we program, build algorithms and design journeys, the more it orchestrates us. Whatsapp’s blue ticks make us anxious. We’ve forgotten waiting, relentlessly checking and re-checking for a response. “They’ve read it. Did something go wrong?” Is it psychologically tweaking us as humans? On Instagram one’s active decision makes one comment on their friends’ posts – validation checked! However, their stories are a tap and skip feature, but you are counted amongst the hundreds who’ve viewed them. “They’ve seen it. I thought they’d have something to comment about my sunrise story! Ask where I was?” They, the closer ones, on whom we pegged our expectations to be validated, probably just skipped the story. The pursuit of endless validation changes colour to doubt and grim unease, despair. The sunrise dissipates.

Very subtly, as we walked through the internet, it has taken the baton from us – manoeuvring us, in a sly garb that makes us believe we are in charge. Netflix starts the next episode on its own – and our discretion dies for the next forty minutes. Ironically, peers have often lauded the interface and working of it for the same reason. Facebook and Instagram are no different with their bottomless feed. Even blogs and content websites have one article seamlessly tied below the other. An active decision making has been run over by passive submission into consuming and crawling around the specific platform for as long as they could hold. But what do we actually end up retaining from this mammoth of information?

Like childhood habits that mothers objected to, our hands without a conscious thought unlock our fancy phones with hi-tech sensitive fingertip detection, all at any moment our brain thinks it’s free. It could be a minute’s wait for someone or hourlong taxi rides. And when we look up, the clock’s moved ahead. It’s not an illusion of the urban world that there is no time. The head goes into a tizzy. Senseless scrolling through feed we’re barely registering. And at the end of it we’re only drained, scurrying through soundless noise.

Active thinking and conscious reflection, often counted as a mark of humans, seem to be waning.
Well, they got a remedy. To breathe in deeper and compose myself, I go tap and open a new app – Calm. Guided breathing. Whatever happened to a minute’s quietness?

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