Here we are in the glorious 21st century. Technology enriches every aspect of our life. It helps us connect with family and friends; with co-workers and business contacts; and even with random people across the world who share common interests. It helps us see and talk to people over thousands of miles. It helps us drive better and save money on everything from groceries to big screen TVs. It helps us learn and make conscious and intelligent decisions that make us eat, read and sleep better. The list goes on and on. And that is only what we know. There is so much more that is being built as we speak and so much more that is yet to be. Why then am I writing and you, reading an article titled “Ungadgeted?”
Technology has two faces to it. The in-your-face gadget face which we all see when we look at our smartphones and tablets and the behind the scenes face that powers everything from airlines to your smartphones and tablets. The latter is making great strides in helping humanity live longer and better. The former is enriching our life but also changing it in a profound way that is all too soon and maybe, just maybe, all too much.
As a case in point I would like to present the following photo (of me) and how I work at home after my son goes to bed. This is by no means an exaggeration, as my wife would affirm and bemoan to everyone. What you don’t see in the picture is my fitness tracker that I carry with me all the time or the crowd-funded smart watch that I am eagerly awaiting. The fact of the matter is that I am not an exception. I am increasingly in a crowd of such gadget driven people.
Here is why we may be bordering on too much gadget use. We are completely hooked on them with rapidly decreasing attention span and social interaction skill levels. Lunches and dinners with friends are increasingly quiet affairs with most folks hunched over the smart phones. At restaurants it is uncommon to see kids without iPads. Often, parents are finding that giving their kid an iPad allows them to eat in peace. People walking down the corridor at work rarely meet each other’s eyes. Most people are checking emails all the time. Elevators are no different. Even restrooms are not immune to the curse of the smartphone. Where then are we without one or more of our gadgets?. Where and when and how then do we engage in person with friends and colleagues?
A few months ago, I conducted a small experiment which I termed “ungadgeted.” All that I did was to not have my smart devices on me unless absolutely necessary.
For example, when I got to work, I left my phone at my desk when I went to the kitchen for coffee or just walked in the corridors to meet colleagues. In elevators, I put my phone away in my pocket. Once I got home, I put my phone away until night when my son was asleep. The overall experience was exhilarating. I smiled more, engaged with people so much more and overall ended up making more friends and learning more things. Those few minutes while waiting for the tea cup to fill with warm water was a great moment to start a conversation. Those idling seconds in the elevator inspired me to come up with quips even if they were cliched rants about the perfectly good NorCal weather. At home there was so much time to spend with my family. It was unbelievable! It was as if a new me was revealed to the world and irrespective of how others felt about it, I felt great. Almost liberated.
In parallel, I started conducting a separate exercise. I started using pen and paper extensively. No more taking notes on my computer. I wrote and wrote. I fell in love with pens and paper, all over again. I rediscovered my handwriting. I realized that I was able to express my ideas as well on paper as on a keyboard. This article was a set of bullet points in a notebook written with my fountain pen before it became an email submission to the editor.
For most of you like me, always tethered to an internet connection or a gadget give the ungadgeted experiment a try. It is a tad challenging at first because it makes you engage with people; communicate when there may not be something to talk about; coming up with topics on the fly. But in a few weeks, you will see a remarkable difference in how you approach things and people. And if you haven’t picked up a pen and paper in a while, give that a try too. You will be surprised to discover how much fun it is to write.
I am not asking you to stop using your gadgets. I haven’t. I continue to use all of them and enjoy them too. But it is worth pausing for a moment to smell the roses or the coffee in the kitchen. They are as good as they have ever been. It might well be the best thing you did in a while.
Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy is a tech enthusiast and blogs on various topics from parenting to shopping: rangaprabhu.com.