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The Digital Maiming

Hindsight has an epithet. “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect”
So said, Sophocles in the Greek tragedy that he wrote eons back in 429 BC. The human sting in the story is not lost on us even thousands of years later. Social Media has invaded our lives irreversibly in the form of Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn or the all-pervasive Facebook or any other of our times. They are altering our lives like no other in reality and may surely reflect in retrospect, akin to the horrific tragedy of the story, wherein everyone is maimed in the end.

Before we realize the psychological effects of the cocaine of social media on the humans, we probably would be deskilled and zombified. How many times, having misplaced the mobile, we tried to call the wife or the kid and desperately tried to recall the number, but were unable to do so or while trying to use the bank card that was used on multiple occasions every day, and realising that we had completely forgotten the PIN?

Have we ever realised that hovering over the ATM keys, card-tapping, face-scanning and swiping, being on the phone for almost 20 hours a day, had wiped out all mundane things from memory? Is this an indication of impending dementia in humans?  Too much information, too many things to look at and too many passwords. Memory can do a meltdown in the onslaught of all the writing, emails, page layouts, picture editing and social media updating on the phone.

Don’t we spend an unholy amount of time on shopping applications, and an average of around four to five hours a day on Instagram, a few hours on twitter and eternally hooked on to Facebook? Do we use the phone only for work? Ever realised that we tend to give out several personal details on the Facebook that we hold otherwise dear. Ever pursued more lofty-minded activities, such as reading scholarly periodicals online, or understanding technology that makes our lives easy?

“Before, you are wise; after, you are wise. In between you are otherwise”
said David Zindell in the “The Broken God” a science fiction novel. Interspersed throughout the novel there is also much philosophical contemplation and musings on subjects ranging from mysticism to linguistics and metaphysics. Before the DNA is altered, or we are rendered “otherwise” and left to ruminate the metaphysics of our lives, we need to detox the unholy addiction to mobile phones, and social media lest a new generation of zombies are born.

Have we not ignored the person we are with, whilst on our phone? Phubbing is a portmanteau and a millennial term for “phone” and “snubbing”, a modern-day malaise that kills relationships and obliterates the soul of life. We’ve all done it or, at the very least, have had it done to us. While talking to our friends if the phone rings, all of us must have broken the conversation to respond to the message. We all must have spent time most nonchalantly while we played the popular computer games “The Gardens Between” or the “Minit” or checked email at the dinner table while with the family or seen the wife in the car scrolling through Facebook, while the husband was driving. Should we pass these off as vagaries of changing times or should we take note as potentially disrupting? When we are distracted, our present slips into the past, a precious, finite currency that we can never recover.

Each of these actions, and its uncounted variants, removes us from the present moment and immediate physical setting, and into an electronic social environment. Do we see the irony here? Whilst it’s true that the mobile phone has changed every part of our lives, we read, listen to music, talk, make appointments, plan our lives, communicate, research, work, and navigate on it, what’s less obvious is the extent to which this small handheld device has changed the way we conduct our relationships, particularly, our personal ones. Even saying sorry has changed colour today. Speak to any psychologist or therapist, and they’ll tell that intimacy and social skills are built over time and in repeated trivial moments, a dinner conversation with a child about their day, a hilarious memory about a school teacher recalled with a friend on a park bench or a question about weekend plans during a break in an office meeting. Each a seemingly innocuous, perhaps frivolous, conversation, but, collectively, they create bonds and forge a relationship filled with intimacy. The worry is really the impact on interpersonal relationships.

How often have we seen a sight of an entire table ignoring each other in a restaurant or in the market centre because everyone is on their phone? Does this reflect the quality of their level of emotional expression?  Or is this a fear of confrontation? In fact, in their study, “My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone”, Prof Meredith David and Prof James Roberts make a point that phubbing may adversely affect marital satisfaction because of the feeling of exclusion it creates.

Let’s be honest. Have we not several times, mindlessly reached for our phones or refreshed the social media feeds, even when we just checked those minutes ago? This is not about will power. The truth is, nearly every app on the phone has been expertly engineered to produce those very responses by designers skilled in manipulating brain chemistry to elicit addictive behaviours. In fact, smartphones are basically slot machines we keep in our pockets. Catherine Price, a science Journalist reports that when we read digital media, the cluttered landscape of links and ads and the short bursts of attention that are required by scrolling and swiping and tweeting, result in a contradiction in terms and induce, “an intensely focused state of distraction.” and while that distraction seems like it should be temporary, its effects are actually chillingly long-term. This type of frequent, focused distraction, she explains, is capable of creating long-lasting changes in our brains. Probably it is time we did a social digital detox. Can we switch off? Can we set new restrictions on our social media usage? Can we set limits like an hour of social media a day and when we exceed, the phone logs us out? We owe it to ourselves lest the future generations are digitally maimed.

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