Since last several decades, three to be exact, I have been meeting a group of friends over a cup of coffee, every morning at a popular joint in my home town Pune, whenever I am in town. Things have changed over these years. My old group of friends is almost disbanded. Some have grown too old and are no longer able to make it there every morning. A long time friend is no more. Yet I continue with my routine as I have found new friends, who are much younger to me, but apparently can tolerate me for that half or three quarters of an hour, when we chat over a cup of tea. (I no longer drink coffee and have since changed over to tea.)
Though our discussions, on any subject under the sun, over that cup of tea, have remained equally engrossing, ardent and intense as before, yet another definitive change has come over. Earlier, when we left our respective places of business to enjoy company of friends for next hour, we left our business worries back at the office and would spend next hour or so in the company of friends with a tension free mind. Now, it is no longer that simple, each and everyone except me, carries a mobile smart phone in his pocket and even when we sit in the coffee shop, most of the time my friends keep watching that gadget for incoming calls or e-mails. I do not do so because, firstly I do not have a smart phone and secondly no one really calls me. There are occasions when everyone in our group, except me, can be seen talking or writing replies to mails on the phone. I would be only person in the group just sitting idle and watch the friends so engrossed with their phones.
Same thing happens these days, even when I meet my relatives in their homes. Their mobile phones keep ringing all the time and disrupt any talk, we may have. I often wonder, how did I manage to do business during my working years without a mobile phone. A couple of years ago, I made a short trip to New Delhi along with my friends. Throughout this trip, my friends kept talking to their offices in Pune and helped people back home solve day to day problems in the office. I remembered that I also used to make quite a bit of business travel, but since there were no mobile phones, I was never burdened with attending my Pune office local problems and situations.
I am not against mobile devices at all. I often admire and wonder, the changes and speed, they have brought to our daily lives. Yet I feel that we are being over burdened with more and more technology, all the time. We are now totally addicted to our gadgets. The question is do we continue like this or is their a solution to de-addict ourselves.
An informal group has been formed (again over internet) that calls itself as Technologists Anonymous. Interestingly, some of Silicon Valley guys, who in the first place, build the technologies, we are addicted to, are trying to join this group to wean themselves from this 24-hour technology diet. But how do we do it? Silicon valley addicts suggest few ways.
Set up gadget-free zones in your home, maybe the bedroom or kitchen table, or both. In those settings, make it a strict rule that there are no smart phones, tablets or laptops allowed. Do not rely on smart phones and laptops for listening to music, taking photos or jotting down notes. Switch your gadget to “airplane mode,” which turns off the wireless data connections, when you need a break. That way your device can be still used for capturing and creating information, but you won’t be prodded by texts, tweets or e-mails. If you feel that you must remain connected at least turn off all the notifications on your phone, including Facebook, Twitter and text messages, so you’re not constantly disturbed. You can still receive your phone calls..
Pinterest is one of the successful social media platform. Its founder Evan Sharp, and his wife have found a way out. They go on long drives together until their cell signal drops out. Many drive on weekends to a place that has no cell coverage and go there for a drive and a stroll. For Indians, this solution may not work, because firstly, very few of us can afford the luxury of a long drive every weekend and to find such spots, you may need to travel to remote places away from highways.
The best way to break the habit, according to me is to use your willpower. Treat your smart phone or a laptop as a tool or a communicating device, which should be used at your own sweet discretion at the time and places you decide to use them. Ideally there should be no need to run away or reject them to be free of them.
Meanwhile, I can only hope vainly that my coffee friends would see the light and we can go back to the days, when we had those wonderful uninterrupted and intense discussions over a cup of coffee.
p.s. While writing this, I took a small break and checked what everyone else in the house is doing. They all are either looking at laptop or their smart phones. Do you get me?
(First Published in Akshardhool on 23 May 2013)