The era of ‘Constant Checkers”!!!

Every decade is characterized by a dominant influence of the times. So, if 80’s was the Doordarshan(TV) era, 90’s the Computer era, the 1st decade of this century – the Mobile phone era, then this decade is certainly the Smart phone era! And this era is afflicted by one significant syndrome.  If you want to understand what it is, it is quite simple. Try answering the following simple questions:

What’s the 1st thing people do, these days after waking up? After brushing their teeth or perhaps even before that?

What’s going on while sipping the morning cuppa of tea or coffee?

What does one do, while waiting at the bus stop?

What do you see most youngsters doing, while travelling in the train these days?

What do people do most of the time, while waiting for their order in restaurants?

What do folks do when they are waiting for the signal to change while driving?

What do you do at airports these days while awaiting the boarding call?

What does one do while waiting in any line?

In a group of friends what do you see most of them engaged in?

Before the advent of the smart phone, giving a pertinent answer for all these questions would have been difficult as they can be quite diverse.  In the smart phone era though, the answer to all those questions in all probability is just going to be one which is “Checking the phone”!!! Welcome to the era of “Constant Checkers”! I read some time back that the American Psychological Association (APA) after conducting a study on the behavior of people of late, has come up with this term called “Constant Checkers” for those who constantly are checking their phones for e-mails, Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, WhatsApp messages, video clips and so on.

Being a “Constant Checker” and having them around have become the new normal! So, when I saw a poster at my friend’s place which read “I saw a guy at the Coffee shop today. No phone, No tablet. No laptop. He just sat there. Drinking Coffee. Like a Psychopath!”, I wasn’t amused. The days are gone when one visits a coffee shop to just enjoy the coffee!  In the pre-smart phone era, parents used to worry that their kids suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. Because of their lack of focus or concentration on one activity and their constantly wavering moods. However these days, I reckon that it’s the opposite. With most kids getting addicted to the smart phone in their teens of late, they suffer from “Attention Abundance Disorder” as most of the times they are hooked on to the phone with single minded attention!

Those days, when guests come at home, they are put to ease first by offering a glass of water. These days – it is by providing the Wi-Fi password!!! “Constant Checkers”, aside from checking their timelines constantly on social media, also keep “checking in” somewhere and announcing to the world of their whereabouts. More than visiting a place, announcing to others that you have visited that place is the order of the day! On our annual holiday last year at a hill resort, when the manager at the reception informed the guests that there was no Wi-Fi in the rooms, the disappointment was palpable. So, in the entire resort which had a swimming pool, reading room, play courts, recreation centre and the works, the busiest place was the “Activity centre” which had Wi-Fi!  Airplanes which used to be one place with no connectivity, have also started providing connectivity. Yesterday’s news says that even in India, we soon will be able to browse midair!  So, for a “Constant Checker” being on a plane is no excuse for not checking nowadays!

In line with the adage, “What goes up must come down”, I guess soon we will see the burnout of this syndrome or so I hope. And the signals are visible somewhere in the horizon.  In the many WhatsApp groups I am part of, I saw few of my friends exiting the groups as part of their New Year resolutions to be less hooked on to WhatsApp.  They claimed it to be a temporary measure and wanted to try it out. As stress levels go up due to the constant checking, “Digital Detox” is getting popular. I see online status messages which read: “On Digital Detox, please don’t disturb” more often than before.  However the jury is still out on if the detox helped or created serious withdrawal symptoms! I also see a sense of fatigue setting in of seeing the same messages of frivolous nature being circulated in different groups with a result, one just chooses to ignore the chats in most groups and focuses on just a select few. “Constant checking” also invariably becomes a bone to pick for wives with their husbands or vice versa.

With WhatsApp being actively used for serious business communication nowadays, “Constant Checking” has become unavoidable at one level.  As in most aspects of life, the challenge is to strike a balance while taking advantage of what technology can offer. The same is true for “Constant Checking” as well, I fathom till another disruption emerges.

Post Script: At a Chennai restaurant in what is a bold move, they ask the patrons to leave their mobile phones behind in a locker. And I’m told that the place is getting popular with the wives and Girlfriends!!

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A day of Digital Detoxing!!!

It’s not very often that I tune into FM Radio while driving. That space is usually kept for Indian Classical music, Ilayaraja and of late Kishore Kumar. A chance tuning to Red FM 93.5 a few days back spurred an idea which caught my imagination. The station amidst bajaoing the likes of the highly repulsive ‘baby ko bass pasand hai’ and its ilk, was filling in with a new segment called “Prayaas” which they explained was an attempt to create awareness on social causes. So that day’s Prayaas was devoted to what they called as the “digital” disease and described with a funny song how people have fallen into the “Digital Trap” in almost all walks of life. Aimed to be funny, it was thought provoking!

Coming to think of it, it’s a fact that most of the urban and semi urban population world over is today suffering from this “Digitalitis”! It’s an ailment which involuntarily spread itself with technology – first the internet and now the smart phone. Reams or rather terabytes have been consumed on how a day in the life of a human being has changed with the advent of the smart phone, on how a smart phone has made a person dumb and so on. Like the other day in a Coffee shop, one saw a lone guy. No big deal, right? But the surprise thing was he was not checking his phone. And was not on his laptop either. Was just sipping and enjoying his coffee. Somebody commented that he must be a psychopath😄😄. Today, a guy just sitting and having his coffee without being in the “Digital space” cannot be anything else!!!

In these days of waking into your smart phone and closing your eyes in the night after checking and responding to the last messages in the myriad groups in WhatsApp, what happens if you shut yourself “Digitally” for a day? A day of Digital Detoxing??? So that was yesterday for me when I decided to go back to the pre-smart phone days. That means – no WhatsApping even Good morning messages or indulging in weekend banter in at last count 46 groups😄😄. Not logging into Facebook even for greeting friends on Birthdays which I do very religiously now. (For a person who is bad at remembering dates, knowing the Birthdates of near and dear thro FB is a Godsend). No Tweeting, not even the usual satirical one liners (pakau stuff for some)! And no checking the phone now and then (as per the wife – every half a second!!) for business e mails!! And certainly no blogging😄😄

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Having decided to go through this, the first step was to announce this proudly to the wife. (Lest she should not think that her man is not well the whole day😜😜). The immediate reaction was in predictable lines. “One full day of Digital Detoxing??? No Chance”!! I challenge that you cannot cross even few minutes forget a day and all😜” Thoughts of all the past challenges with the wife which you invariably lost came to the mind! But I still muster courage and reaffirm my resolve to be detoxed. So what was my experience???

First up, the digital detox day started off with a bad omen. The tyranny of the I-phone battery ensured that the battery was drained out completely when I got up. So may be that was a good omen!!! After putting it up for charging, I touched my phone only to answer few calls whole of the day! And as an extension to the detox programme, the laptop was firmly entrenched in its bag!

The Omen – Good or Bad notwithstanding, the experience was not bad at all. Not only did I withstood for 12 hours, but went beyond that as well.  It certainly helped that it was a weekend and hence could afford to put away the phone in a corner of the drawing room. Of course there were temptations to check messages in WhatsApp but could resist without much ado.  When you don’t have to catch up with messages in the many WA groups in the early morning, you could get back to the youth habit of reading the newspaper from the “Mast head” to the “printed and published by,…” line. Oops nowadays it is from “one ad for a smart phone” to “another one for an Ecom sale”😄😄. No checking the phone while in signals or traffic jams which is an instinctive thing to do nowadays. Same while waiting in check-out counters while shopping! Could engage with banters with the wife and the daughter without interruptions. The banter went on and on that the wife felt that the regular day was better😄😄. The eyes which get moist in usual days staring most of the time on the laptop screen and straining on mobile screen felt relaxed. From multi-tasking (which is what you end up doing when you are working on the phone all the time) to single tasking, the day was more relaxing I felt.

Couple (only😄) of my friends called to check if all’s well with me – since they didn’t see the 2 blue ticks against messages sent to me over WA all through the day!

By evening, the sister called to check if there was some major fight with the wife at home. (Incidentally the wife also gave a miss to the regular Good morning message yesterday!!!). I had to convince the sister that the situation was quite the opposite – hopefully😄😄

Otherwise nothing much was missed! Today morning, could pick up the thread easily and move on. So maybe I should do it more often. And may be one day isn’t enough to feel the difference. So, to my fellow travelers in the digital age, do try this “digital detoxing”! But please inform your folks in advance that you are on Digital Detoxing😄😄 I will, certainly the next time which is most likely to be for a week!

Postscript:  In Chennai, I came across a restaurant where the patrons have to leave the mobile phones behind in lockers. Last heard – its doing well with the wives😄😄