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A Bright, Inane Age

How the dumb, but devilishly fun, smartphone world took over my life

A Bright, Inane Age
Illustration by Saahil
A Bright, Inane Age
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

An Airtel guy speaking in English seemingly learnt in a Hindi college called to say that the megabyte use on my smartphone exceeded my bill plan. I yelled at him for disrespecting customer time with sales calls. Look who is twittering about time, retorted Minnie Mouse from a juvenile corner of my brain. That’s how my alter ego looks these days. Silly yellow pumps a size too big, an oversized red, polka-dotted bow with a matching crop top, beatific wonderment on the face and self-absorption that would send a sponge into an identity crisis. This Minnie Mouse, cartoonists please note, possesses a smartphone.

I have gone bananas, that’s why I sound like a case of mashed apples. Rewind to November last year, when a close friend I have known since kindergarten suggested that I join a Whatsapp group. Class of 1985 from Modern School, Gandhidham, he persuaded softly, most of them our friends since the writing desks at school were taller than us. Till then, I had resisted turning into an ‘I-tard’. No Twitter, no real interest in Facebook, no Instagram. I liked my old-fashioned cool, unblessed by digital smartness. But then I gave in and instilled life into the precocious green WhatsApp icon on my cheapish Android phone.

I am not a typical Google head. I duck phone calls, ignore SMSes and prefer the swimming pool over internet surfing. Alas, now I am woefully addicted to my phone because of this WhatsApp group which we call the Badnaam Classroom, inspired by a debate on Munni badnaam hui. The group theme changes every day—from chillingly boring subjects like favourite cricketers, to views on extramarital affairs or creative spurs like suggesting a redesign for the Indian tricolour! Valentine’s Day, Holi or the World Cup final, we magnify everything with tiring excitement. Some friends are talented singers; they post songs while the rest go into frenzied applause with cutesy emoticons, mostly the thumbs-up sign. It’s an admiration society, good for the heart but not for the brain, which needs challenge and critical feedback.

Yours sincerely, in love with her phone voice and ideas, posts vain voice notes—from a chance gym encounter with former cricketer Imran Khan to insights gained from the Dalai Lama’s Buddhist teachings. Ouch. Idiocy by any other name would still be as idiotic. Recently, when I re-heard my voice notes and saw the pictures I had posted, I realised how puerile I had become. My photo boasts ranged from one taken at a nunnery in Sikkim to others showing off yoga poses as well as one with me styled as a grungy pirate complete with a patch on one eye (so, I had an eye problem). Someone save me from myself, I cringed. Thankfully, self-aggrandisement has some painful symptoms.

The Badnaam Classroom is a dependable support group with some enlivening conversations, friendly fun and heady heterosexual flirtation (I play the sport earnestly). But like most groups, it is also an exhausting universe of mind-numbing forwards, unoriginal jokes, amateurish quizzes, Archie-ised birthday sentiments and shows a makeshift readiness to turn into a satsang venue bursting with spiritual-religious photographs and quotations. In an age of complex individualism where we must make our own beds (and dig our own graves), I feel I am misdirecting emphasis and energy to make a virtue out of normalcy. Great as a stress-buster used with discretion, but its daily pursuit has left me dopey.

Admittedly, I have traded precious reading and research time to keep up with the game by making silly academic observations and invested in various phone charging devices for home, my handbag and office lest I get ‘disconnected’. It is laughable. The WhatsApp beep on my phone has always been silent but that never stopped me from looking at the green icon every few minutes, even in airport loos. I feel dumber, less clued in to current affairs and generally absent-minded. I take a week to read a book that should take me three days.

Distractedly, I keep misplacing keys, lipsticks and notebooks (never the cellphone) as my brain swims in an addictive sludge. I choose the exercycle in the gym so that my hands are free to fiddle with the phone. I tried reading iBrain: Sur­viving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by American neuroscientist Gary Small, but dumped it quickly to continue sharing my idiomatic, artless daily memoir with my smartphone friends. My son rolls his eyes when he sees me ‘online’ while the husband finds my distraction a relief, saying he can finally appreciate the silence in the house.

Me? I feel good about life when I type ‘Good Morning friends’ with my first coffee. I feel almost happy. Then why do I feel so stupid?

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