I am a millennial, a child of the 90s and I spent a major part of my childhood during the time when there was one phone (landline) for five families, unlike now when every member of a family has a phone. I remember the time when the entire neighborhood would gather to watch ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayan’ on Sundays at my grandma’s place. Playing video games was also a challenge. You had to plug in tons of wires between your television, adapter, joystick, extension chord and game-board; put on a game cartridge, and Oh! I almost forgot the gun we used for ‘duck hunt’ and the annoying dog who laughed at us. I never owned a video game but used to borrow it from friends during summer. I was proud of the fact that I was the one amongst the few in my neighborhood who could set it up. Today, it’s much less complicated with wireless Playstations and Tablets.
The first time I saw a computer was when I was about 10 years old at my school. When I started using internet, I was 15, and when I had a phone of my own, I was 17. My first smartphone came four years later when I landed into my first job. Ever since, there has been no looking back and laptops, smartphones, tablets have been an integral part of my life, essential for work, recreation as well as communication. In the last decade and a half, television got replaced by Netflix and Amazon Prime; and newspapers by Social Media. Phone calls and internet costs are now at a record low when fuel and food prices are at an all-time high. We have truly entered the Digital Age.
In the past one month, I was taken back to the memory lane when I was posted at Pinder Valley in Uttrakhand, one of the most beautiful and unexplored places in the country that a few people outside Uttrakhand have heard about. I was there to document case studies and monitor CHIRAG’s educational and computer usage programmes in the government schools there. Pinder Valley lies at an altitude of around 2300 meters above sea level in Bhageshwar district of Uttrakhand, surrounded by the snow-capped Himalayan glaciers on three sides. The network of most of the telephone companies such as Vodafone, Airtel and Idea does not work here. BSNL does but the connection is intermittent. In times when internet has penetrated in most parts of the country, this place has no 4G/3G or even 2G connection until this day.
Even though I had this information, I went there like an idiot without even a single book to read. The first few days of the digital detox were a little frustrating but pleasant because of the natural beauty all around. I spent my time walking in the woods and listening to the twenty songs that I had on my phone since SoundCloud and Youtube had made downloading songs to the phone, redundant. When I got bored and there was no one to talk to, I started looking at the old photos on my phone and re-read WhatsApp conversations in groups and from/to individuals.
The absence of network and internet itself was too much, and I wondered how things would be if I had no phone at all.
Paulo Coelho says, “What you seek is seeking you and the universe always gives you what you seek”. Well the Universe is a jerk and it heard me this time. My phone fell into water just a day after I thought about this. Hence began my almost absolute digital detox. My mind was now filled with a lot of thoughts – Will I be able to recover my phone’s data? How am I going to afford a new phone? What will I do until then? Suddenly, I felt an immediate urge to know what’s happening on the election front and who died in the new season of Game of Thrones.
I realised that there is no one I could call except my parents and two childhood friends whose numbers I still remember. Even though these thoughts irritated me initially, but in a few days, I got used to not having a phone. I felt much calmer, held back and was truly enjoying my time soaking up the beauty of the mountains, playing cricket with the children of the village and sometimes, teaching them Maths, English, and Computers in the evenings. I felt like I was becoming a better person who was more aware of his surroundings and the situations/problems of the people around him.
By the time that I was about to leave Pinder, I felt that I could continue living like this forever, without a phone and I would lead a much happier life as I had now seen how technology had slowly crept into each aspect of my life and changed how I think, act and interact. Photos are no longer taken for memories but for dopamine kicks through social media weighed against the number of likes and comments. We no longer talk to our co-passengers during our commute but instead fidget with our phones or put on a headset. We don’t have time to read but search for two-minute videos. We swipe right instead of smiling or starting a conversion with a cute stranger sitting next to us on a train.
By this time, you might be wondering if I have become an anti-technology crusader. Believe me, I am far from that. Even though I loved my phone-less days; while leaving Pinder, I realised that I could not continue like this because I have already gotten used to the digital age and it is challenging to take a step back.
When I returned back from the field area without a phone with me, I realised that our work and personal lives are almost impossible to manage without a phone and/or internet. Every time I need to make an important call, I have to borrow a phone from somebody, and its annoying that there is no way to use internet, even to write and research. I wanted to submit a few essays as a part of an application for a 10-day conference whose deadline was yesterday, but I could not do that because I couldn’t find internet. On the bright side, there are many ways in which technology, including phones have changed our lives for better. It has made many things more convenient including secondary research, shopping, banking and even booking tickets. However, all this comes with costs of mass surveillance, big brother and fake news. These are serious concerns that are to be addressed for making technology safe, productive, accessible and useful to solve real-world problems.
Ever since we humans have been walking on two feet, technology has been shaping our interactions with ourselves and our surroundings. We have come a long way from the humble fire and stone tools to the smart gadgets we use today. We should embrace technology as it’s impossible for us to not do so as an entire species, maybe as sometimes as individuals. For example, the first few generations of farmers could never go back to live as their hunter-gatherer ancestors.
As I am writing this blog, I don’t have a phone and I feel slightly handicapped because I live in a digital world where information and communication are at everyone’s fingertips. The world is a global village, and I suddenly, don’t have access to it. For all the drawbacks our phones may bring, I think we do make a good use of it a lot of times. It always helps to cut-off from phones and technology for a while but the world gets so ahead that it’s impractical for most of us to continue living in this state forever, especially when you are a working professional.