Estragon: People are bloody ignorant apes.
Estragon: Charming spot. Inspiring prospects. Let’s go.
Vladimir: We can’t.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot.
Recently, I was reminded of Samuel Beckett’s classic play, “Waiting for Godot”. I was out for my evening walk and hadn’t yet plugged in to my smartphone, when I noticed Vladimir and Estragon standing next to a tree, lost in nothingness. I mean, I thought so.
The illusion broke as I reached near them and saw two boys busy with their smartphones. I almost broke into a fit of laughter but immediately got a lump in my throat. What if Vladimir and Estragon where present in these times and were waiting for Godot with a smartphone gleaming in their hands? What if Estragon instead of dealing with his boots was busy with checking his Facebook status? What if Vladimir shared his views about the story of the two thieves on his twitter page? And I don’t even want to mention a “what if” for Godot.
I don’t intend to hurt the Beckett fans, as I am one of them. But the image of those two boys standing next to each other silently, deeply involved in their smartphones, as if they were in a non-existent world, as if they were not together, as if there was “nothing to be done”, expect of course digging the smartphone, forced me to ponder.
Smartphones, considered to be the only tool/ instrument/ non-living thing in the history of mankind to have impacted our lives so strongly that we cannot function without it anymore, control our lives. Terms like smartphone gait, digital life, digital diet, etc., are quite common in the tech world. In fact in South Korea, one of the most digitally connected countries in the world, a new term – digital dementia – is being used to deal with the patients suffering from internet addiction and the over-use of smartphones.
Different researches and polls have proved that in countries like the US, the UK, China, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil, one in every five people check their smartphones every ten minute. Maybe in not-so-far-future there will be billboards on the road sides, asking us if we are nomophobic – the fear of being out of mobile phone contact – and giving us suggestions to how to check and curb our addiction. What a joke! Who will read the billboards?
But of course, one can read such and many more suggestions/articles on their smartphones. The smartphone will, without any hesitation, reveal the information that over dose of its usage can lead to a slow or immediate death (car accidents etc.). After all, it’s not called a smart phone for no reason.
Weirdly, sometimes Gollum from The Lord of the Rings crosses my mind when I see people glued to their smartphones, as if speaking to it and saying – “Yes, wretched we are, says everyone, but you’ll not hurt us, will you my precious?”
I have not been using my smartphone for quite some time now, not because I have overcome the digital life’s addiction but simply because it broke. My life didn’t change drastically and I am still enjoying the smartphone free days. I guess it did change for others as I started getting complaints for not keeping in (24×7) touch from my friends and family members.
But this too passed quickly as they had no time to listen to my boring revelation. In fact, they avoid using their smartphones in front of me now, as free from this tech burden, I constantly blame them of being addicted to it, being a slave to it, of not paying attention, warning them about neck and eye sight problems, literally scolding them for being senseless to share silly Whatsapp jokes, etc.
If I tell my friends, while on a walk, that what a wonderful view it is, I am suddenly made to huddle together for a “group selfie” and before I can express displeasure in doing so, the photo is tagged, shared, liked and commented on. The next thing is that I get a call from another friend of mine saying, ‘Hey! You’re in the town? Let’s meet.”
When and why did the smartphones become of so much importance that we are having smartphone addiction problems? What is the need to be digitally active 24×7? What will we miss if we didn’t check our Facebook page/ Twitter page/ Instragram/ Gmail for (if it is allowed to say or even to imagine) a week? What is the rush? Why are there people in countries like South Africa and India who don’t get enough to eat, but proudly own two mobile handsets? What are the industrial lords planning to do?
Ignoring these lords for now, it will be better if we all start keeping a check on our digital life, our digital diet. Some tech health gurus suggest keeping Digital Fasts for a healthy and long digital life… It sounds stupid? Stupid it may be, but is not incorrect.
If you wake up with the smartphone ringing melodiously its alarm and you go off to sleep, after typing a good night message for the nth time on your Whatsapp, then it’ll be good to try, for just one day, leaving your phone behind and going outside to join Vladimir and Estragon, who probably are still waiting for Godot.
The article was first published in The Hindu.