Commentary

Smartphones, the new way of life

Why does the title sound like a topic for an elocution competition put together hurriedly at the last moment for 8th graders, you ask? Because it is, but for college juniors.

I recently attempted to participate in one, and after one too many hiccups, the date got postponed and time limit shortened. So what was supposed to last a full five minutes, now needs to be squeezed into a 45sec to 1 minute window. I got eight days but not too sure if I want to anymore. Anyway, here’s the transcript…

Have smartphones become the new way of life? I do not have a definitive answer for that question currently, so let’s get on aboard the train of thought.

Life is one of those rare terms that even the holy of holies in the field of science don’t have a clear explanation for. There are various opinions but not a single, clear definition – the meaning of life differs from person to person. However I think we can all agree that any activity that is performed voluntarily and frequently by an individual or a group of people could count as their way of life. For instance, people in Coimbatore are generally portrayed as extremely respectful and polite in most movies and stories, and in my experience they never failed to deliver. So you could say social harmony is their way of life. Violence is often portrayed to be the way of life in places like Madurai (rather an aggressive expression of affection, if you’d ask me), Italians are all about romance and gourmet food while people in Goa forever party. (Am I listing prominent lifestyles or stereotypes?) Where I’m from, winning elocution competitions is the way of life. (Too cheeky, I know, but the teachers usually dig it.)

So if it differs from group to group then how does one decide if a single device is their lifestyle? Well because you know what these people are also doing when they are fighting or eating or partying? They are texting their friends, instagramming pictures of their food and ‘checking in’ to these parties on Facebook as well. This device unites the fighter, gourmand, partygoer and orator, and affects them even handedly.

If you just compared life before and after smartphones, you would see just how ubiquitous and all-pervasive these machines are. Our days used to begin with slam dunking the head of the alarm clock, but do we dare do that now? God forbid! This thing costs half the revenue of China (wink wink at guy who sold his kidney for an iPhone) and a quarter of my soul. So we gently swipe left on the screen and roll back in bed. Sitting on the can, I used to know every ingredient in all my shampoos but now I barely know the name. Bluetooth speakers are the new bathroom singers. On a slightly deeper philosophy, when people are put in a strange land, a new city perhaps, we find ourselves compulsively clutching the phone and checking the time a tad too often, psychologically that’s because phones give us a sense of familiarity and security, it’s the equivalent of carrying around a piece of your home and all that you love and cherish with you. (Yes, I have mentioned this very line in a previous post, but hey I’m allowed to plagiarise myself (and tumblr) fourth wall break within a fourth wall break hashtag cool movie reference) That’s how much we’ve grown attached to this gadget. It has seeped into our basic instincts and all our go-to responses. I see the time on my phone, regardless of whether I’m wearing a watch. A friend of mine got stuck alone in a bus stand in Palakkad, a serene district in Kerala. He doesn’t speak the language, and the thing with Palakkad is that the buses & signboards do not believe in the concept of tourists. They are all only in Malayalam, the regional tongue. The first instinct of my friend was not to ask a fellow pedestrian, because hey that’s so last year, but rather to Google the Malayalam word for his destination and compare the squiggles and circles to those on the bus. True story.

Steve Jobs in his keynote address in 2007 promised us that the first iPhone would revolutionize the way people communicate with themselves, and the world other around them and revolutionize it did. Buses and trains are filled with people, each with their ears plugged in, starring in their own music video. We actively choose digital communication over face to face. My children are never going to get knock knock jokes, who knocks anymore? We text our arrivals from outside the doors. Ola cabs is an excellent example of this phenomenon, the company owns no cabs at all. They have an app. They made it possible for people to book a taxi with the bare minimum homo-sapien-to-homo-sapien communication and the public couldn’t have been more grateful. The sense of achievement I felt after flawlessly ordering pizza, choice of crust, toppings and sides in the first try caresses me like a distant memory because everyone uses the app now. These screens are the adult version of security blankets that we conveniently hide behind everytime things get uncomfortable or intimidating. Is it healthy though, and should this be encouraged or shunned completely is a whole other topic of debate, but we have to agree that the introduction of smartphones is quite a big milestone in the journey humans are on as a species.

Our phones are our new best friends, there’s no denying that fact. We often plan our activities around the availability of our phones, “My phone has run out of charge” is an absolutely valid reason to excuse yourself out of any situation. A lot of it has to do with the ‘smart’ component of smartphones, which easily surpasses that of most humans these days. He knows more about me than I do myself. He wakes me up, records how many calories I burn when I jog and let’s me know that my pace needs to improve in the final lap, I take a stroll around the city, he buzzes me to notify that there’s a good seafood restaurant 8 minutes away because he remembers that I searched for seafood restaurants this one time 3 months ago. He used to correct my spelling and now he predicts the next word that I’m about to type and the one after that! Humans speak the language of smartphones now. ‘Selfie’ was the Oxford word of the year in 2014 and ‘😂’ was in 2015, both of which would be moot if it weren’t for the texting culture. ‘Dafuq’ is even a legit word now.

On a concluding note, I could get a job in about 10 months now and barely one or two core companies have come to my university for campus placements in the past years and yet, you know what scares me the most? Its when my arm brushes against my pocket and I dont feel the reassuring rectangular bump nudging me back. I guess its perfectly apt to declare that smartphones have not only changed our way of life, but they are our new way of life.

speechless silence

Fight me.