The tidal wave of social media and technology has taken the world over. And, we all went willingly. Today, a small number of people have somehow managed to grasp what has happened — the combination of social media, technology and to some extent, the news industry has enslaved the world, like no drug has ever managed to do so.
When did technology take over our lives? And, as an ancillary question, when did we agree to share so much of our personal information on social media platforms, most of whom sell this information onwards to corporations and governments who then use the data provided to understand how we live our lives and then try to manipulate our will using the same data?
Most experts agree that we sort of crept into the social media and technology addiction because we thought “we were in control”. At the same time, we didn’t think of the darker side of the data trails we were leaving online. But as time passed, a certain amount of awareness found its way into the human psyche.
By then, however, it was too late. Things had gone out of hand.
As a trial run, why don’t you turn off your phone right now. And let it be. It’s a leap of faith kind of situation. If you’re in your mid-30s, you’ve probably spent more years without technology than with. But it feels so right now. Can you break the synthetic umbilical cord? Are you still in control?
I smoked tobacco for 25 years straight. And as I went through these years, thoughts of cancer, a long and expensive illness, and an untimely death would occasionally make the rounds. And they were usually swatted away with “I’ll quit soon”. But soon took its time. A quarter of a century. Mostly, because of, “what’s going to happen once I quit”. This vague, gray area of the unknown was the primary reason it took me so long to quit. And when I finally did, lo and behold: nothing changed.
I didn’t gain any weight. I didn’t lose my temper and beat some random fellow to a pulp for a wrongly perceived slight, I didn’t suddenly become less of a man or anything. The only thing that happened is that I quit smoking. Sure, the first week was difficult. I felt something was missing. But life went on, and the feeling went with it.
That feeling of uncomfortableness when you’re without your phone or tablet, or not connected to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever, is the same as the first week of quitting smoking. You are not constantly being bombarded and interrupted by updates, retweets and hashtags. You’ve suddenly been forced to look up at the world, instead of down to your phone. Do things look different? It’s been a while!
Today, numerous studies exist that clearly outline the extents of this global epidemic. The fact that most of these studies are available ‘online’ is ironic and yet another example of the vicious cycle we have gotten ourselves warped into. Still, for the sake of the piece, let me elaborate on some of the key (and most frightening) findings of one such research lead by the International Center for Media and Public Agenda at the University of Maryland USA: A clear majority of subjects admitted outright failure in their efforts to unplug. Others felt that going without media made it seem like they had lost a part of themselves. For many, going without media for 24 hours “ripped back the curtain on their hidden loneliness”. Some couldn’t imagine how to fill up their empty hours.
Are you willing to take the test?
Let’s change gears now. All the above has been about you. But how about we put your child in your shoes instead. Would you be (or are you) okay with your son or daughter being on a phone or tablet all day long? We parents take great precautions with our children, never letting them out of our sight, always holding their hands, and the like. Yet, we allow them to go online without a blink of an eyelid. Why? Because it’s the easiest way out. Because then we don’t need to actively be involved in their time. Because we can continue to focus on something else.
Last Saturday, my five-year-old son asked me to play football with him. Excited at the prospect, I quickly put on my shoes and gear and found him sitting in front of the tv with the X-Box on, and a match lined up between Madrid and City. Let’s go out and play, I said. “No abba, not now, the sun is out”.
My son was turning into a technological wimp. We play football in the garden every day now.
“The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb