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My gadget…my own…my preciousss

  • My gadget…my own…my preciousss

The things you own end up owning you.

Cynics sneer at such paranoia. They say that the only thing we love more than new technology is freaking out about new technology. Do we really? Is it a concern without cause? Why don’t we examine this phenomenon in light of one of the world’s leading anthropological treatises: Harry Potter.

  1. Do you store vital bits of your existence within small to Harry sized objects (Horcruxes)? Smart phones and tablets may not be as sexy as cursed rings or large snakes, but you get the idea.
  2. Do you split your life across countless objects and toss the bits everywhere? We use #socialmediaplatforms linked to myriad apps on multiple gadgets. That’s a Horcrux in a Horcrux in a Horcrux.
  3. Do you place elaborate charms and goofy passwords in order to protect these objects?
  4. On the rare occasion that such an object isn’t physically on your person, do you feel lighter and happier, as if a great weight has been lifted off your head?
  5. Do you scream bloody murder whenever said object is destroyed, corrupted or lost?

If you find in the affirmative on the above counts, you are either Lord Voldemort or the average tech consumer. As a species, moderation is definitely not our strong suit. The role of technology in our lives has made a lightning fast transition from convenience, to dependence to now forming a chunk of our identity. Do we draw a line? If yes, then where?

Let’s first examine our physical routine. The intent of technology is to make tasks easier. But in this process of getting more done, we are doing so much less. We are trying to code our way out of what minimum movement we have today. Our history of inventions and the necessity that sparked them read something like this:

5th Century BC: Crossbow – So that an invader won’t kill you.

3rd Century BC: Paper – So we may preserve and pass on our learning and experiences

12th Century AD: Mariner’s Compass – So we may navigate and explore the earth

19th Century AD: Electric Bulb – So we may see at night with a lower risk of burning the house down

2006 – Motion Gaming – So we can play Golf and Tennis without having to step out of the house.

2008 – Home Automation – So you can turn the fan off without having to get off the couch.

2014 – Driverless Car – So you can guzzle more fries and soda in the time wasted steering.

Our society is no stranger to obesity. There is ample evidence to show that routine movements like taking the stairs, getting up to drink water or taking out the trash, cumulatively have a large impact on our physical health. But with everything being self-driven, remote controlled or home-delivered, we are consistently cheating our bodies out of this exercise. Ironically, we are also producing more and more wearable tech to measure our diminishing daily exercise.

A bigger concern, however, is that a trigger-happy approach to technology could make us emotionally stupid. As parents resort to playing YouTube videos to placate kids, the art of bedtime storytelling is vanishing. E-books and email are convenient and important, but they cannot and should not replace visits to a bookstore or penning of letters on real paper in real ink. No DTH or streaming service can replace a visit to a movie theatre and the comments that ensue.

Virtual reality systems have arrived and need to be treated with caution because it could mean fewer actual visits to Disneyland or trips to childhood homes. There are experiences and sensations that cannot be programmed through an algorithm. For instance, some of the most enjoyable and important memories we form on such trips are misadventures and the bonds we form through them. A virtual reality trip can’t give you a flat tire or a misread map. No software can emulate a crisis situation that brings out qualities in your kids that neither you nor they knew existed (unless you count chucking angry birds at a pig as a quality). We need to remember that technology is meant to enrich and not replace the human experience.

The things you own end up owning you.  The truth in Tyler Durden’s words ambushes each of us at some point or other. Looking back, my moment of clarity was a night-long blackout:

Our otherwise dispersed household miraculously sat huddled around one table and talked. We chatted for hours, narrating routines, sharing stories, discussing problems and gossiping about our gossipy neighbor. But here’s what irks me about this special anecdote: it shouldn’t be so special to me. It’s tragic that the act of sitting together with family and having a normal human interaction is something I recount as an extraordinary event in my life. It’s like tweeting about how watching a pigeon drop one on the roof totally made my day. Why would that make any sense, unless it had become a rare occurrence? Conversation with family has become an endangered species of human activity.

Whatever happened to the thrill of writing and waiting for letters? To the romance of an accidental tea stain or the contours of the pen imprint, revealing the writer’s disposition? A conversation over video chat is useful and easy, but the problem is that one will never feel that restlessness; that impatience of slow communication that pushes one to say “That’s it; I’m travelling to the other end of the world!” Instant chats keep us just satisfied enough to not visit.

It is up to us to consciously draw the line; to decide how we want to reconcile convenience with romance. Otherwise how long before we simply produce children, and let a robot feed them, read to them, tuck them in and bring them up?

The day won’t be far when dictionaries read something like this: Family – A collective noun for gadget screens that have humans attached to them.