Cheers to Life in the Airplane Mode

Let’s start with some imaginary scenario-building. Say, an alien craft has landed on our dear earth. And after a preliminary evaluation, the aliens conclude that we are too primitive for them to not take over the affairs of the planet. Say, like humans land on a planet where chickens are literally ruling the roost, i.e., they are the dominant species and are not Godzilla sized. The dominant chickens are at a size that fits just right in a KFC bucket. Now, would we be friendly to them? Make peace with them? Sign up an alliance of friendship? Or will we open a KFC inter-galactic franchisee and start gobbling them up!

Coming back to our ET friends who have “arrived” without a passport and visa, and are now keen to take over. So, they call up a war council of their generals and discuss threadbare humanity’s capacity to resist and revert. Frankly, they aren’t too perturbed by the nuclear stock pile, as the mushroom cloud doesn’t scare them. Neither does our capricious mass of fighting men in the berets scares them either, as they have some beam to manage that. The primary objective for them is to colonise, they wish to enslave us not fry us for a crispy bucket.

To shackle our spirits, they need to rule our minds. Something sinisterly Orwellian say like the Big Brother and his thought police. And so these aliens decide to strike at our Achilles heel, or biggest vulnerability. Can you guess what course of action they will take to destroy us, to break us down? Go on, think like an alien from one of those sci-fi Hollywood flicks.

No, they will not shoot death rays at us, or use mind-numbing high-frequency sound blast. That’s so stupid; Stupid. And neither will they take down Google’s data center, or beam up the resident at the White House, it just doesn’t cut ice.

If they are observant enough, the course of action would be obvious. Say, like at the war council, one smart-young-alien, who’s been observing mankind and seems to have figured what really makes us tick. “Oink oink mobile towers, ploink ploink mobile phones,” he utters triumphantly through his telepathic waves. Loosely translated in human speak, it means, let’s destroy the mobile towers, let’s destroy the mobile phones (they have various terms for destruction based on the intensity, somewhat like an adjective and verb combined, but not really an adverb).

And then it happens, our phones start blasting on our hands like some Samsung Galaxy S7, and our ability to connect, learn and have sex (Ahem, correction, no alien would ever be able to impact that), is taken away. We are now reduced to a race of wimps, or as our ex-ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen would dub it, “headless chickens, running here, running there”. In a matter of months, our earth is colonised and the aliens move to their next adventure someplace else.

While, all this may sound fantasmorgically lame, this scene has played so many times in my head, like some comic caper. The reason why I am convinced that the aliens, if they were ever stupid enough to arrive, would first destroy or cell phones to break our spirits, to enslave us, is because of the manner in which we seem to be besotted by the device. Observing things like that smart alien, there’s one thing I see everywhere, people are glued absolutely to the squarish (more like rectangularish) chunk of metal or plastic thing in their hands. It’s almost like an oxygen tank that they need to breathe from; their very existence seems to be intricately linked with those clunky handsets. Be it restaurants, trains, airports, cars, homes, toilets; these devices keep a watch over us, like some obsessed paramour. We are always there under the phones watchful gaze.

Having born in an era, where phones were a big luxury, I am amazed by how these devices, that were essentially meant to help us co connect, have actually disconnected us from all else. I observe families out on dinners, where they barely utter a word or savour the meal, as the man on the chair on front is stuffing in butter kulcha dipped in dal makhani with one hand, and with the other he is flicking through the notifications that seek his urgent attention from his innumerable groups on whatsapp. There’s scarcely a sentence or two that they exchange. Most often, the children would be busy with the mothers who seem to have absolutely given up on the man in question.

The metamorphosis of the cell phone into an all pervasive device, the one that lets you listen to music, to show-off, to be a voyeur, to watch movies, to make bank transfers, to play games, to book cabs, to check news, to watch TV, and most importantly to take photos, selfies and videos, has ensured that we are latched on to these devices as if on life support. Over the years, the mobile phone has become ubiquitous and all inclusive. The repeated enhancements, have made it into an all-powerful singular device.

But these enhancements have come at a great cost. The phones now take up a lot more of our attention. The trouble is that we waste our focus on things that are unnecessary. For instance, you might get a message on your phone. When you check it, you also find a notification from Facebook, while you are checking them, there is another about a flash online sale, in the meantime, one of the Youtube channels that you follow has uploaded a new video. Thus, every time you unlock the mobile phone screen, you are drawn into a labyrinth, whom where it is hard to extricate oneself. The result, we are spending much more time on the phones than we actually need to. Sadly, while we are obsessing over our phones, we have been disconnected from the rest. The cell phones have turned us into royal bores, and then they are also or escape from boredom. Is almost that the cure for cocaine addiction is by having more of it.

Where ever I see, I find people lavishing time and energy over their phones. It seems like a sine qua non of their very existence. Oddly, men seem to be most impacted by this peculiar disorder. They seem more prone to this OCMD (basically an OCD with a mobile phone). Men can barely stay a few minutes without feeling, touching, staring, unlocking, their phones. If ever, they are unable to feel the phone in their pockets, they are extremely shaken up and stirred.

Indeed, women are much betrothed to the sheer silly updates that keep popping on the cell phone, wasting time over trifles that are least important. But it is the man who has made it an art. I mean, I have seen more men, spending infinite time collecting candies, dodging a pursuing monster or jumping subways, than anyone else. If not that, they will be reading about an extramarital affair of some celebrity or a rape of some commoner. And then, they also have the scores of pirated movies that they need to watch urgently as if their promotions are dependent on how many they do watch.

Somehow, I think the Victorian British poet WH Davies could be talking about our OCMD when he penned Leisure, “What is this life full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” And that poem was written some 100 years back.

So is there salvation close on hand, or are we destined to be cruising along on this road to perdition? Will the cell phones nix our core nature abounding in enquiry, curiosity, and discovery? Or will we turn into a race that is connected to the world, but disconnected from people next to us? Should we fight back to take charge of our lives, or should we be waiting for some John Connor to arrive on the scene and start a war with the machines?

The good news is that many people around the world seen to have woken up to the singular issue that faces us. Across some of the most prestigious universities, there’s much research underway on the physiological and psychological impact of cell phones. People are already talking about FOMO, fear of missing out and such things. There are rehab clinics that help you cope with the addiction. Newer legislations and rules are being enacted, to ensure that privacy and non-disclosure is maintained. There are quite a few public places that actively discourage mobile phones, like theatres and parks. People are talking about etiquettes of using the phones.

Yet, there is much work to be done to undo the damage that has been done over the past few years. The most important way to take charge of our life, according to me is, to reclutter our lives. I mean have an mp3 player to play music, a tablet to watch films, a Kindle to read books, a camera to take pictures. The real trouble is that when we do either of these activities with our cell phones, we are invariably drawn into other things that draw upon our time. We need to save time on those distractions. Just like we prioritise things at work, we need to do the same with our lives. For instance, what is more important for you between checking out videos of how American cities are inundated by the hurricanes, or playing a game of carom with your 8-year old. If you are sure that it is the former, go ahead check on Harvey and Irma, if it’s latter check up on your kid, who is wondering what to do by himself/herself.

In the end, humanity will have to rebel, defy the choking grip of these devices on our lives. Just like those French revolutions and the American one. We will have to stand up for our rights, our liberty and our freedom. We will have to break the invisible radio-wave shackles that bind us up.

Indeed, the struggle won’t be easy, the road will be tough. Most difficult thing for most would be to give up our fascination for making faces and clicking them, the selfie-brigade. It would also mean, not being able to pose at parties but rather talking and interacting at them. It will mean no more emojis for stupid jokes, forwards or images that have no relevance at all in our lives. It will mean not surfing lightening deals on Amazon. Instead of Facebook, we will turn our faces towards what’s happening in life, with our kids, wife, parents, friends, neighbours, watchmen, cops, cooks, milkman, paanwala, bhajiwala, and so on. The issues entailing the PM, president of US, gorgeous sunrises, Saibaba blessings, enchanting sunsets, can take care of themselves. In fact, the Airplane Mode on our cell phone is one of the best feature. We as a people should keep our phones on that mode, more often and not just when in an aircraft. It is like a meditative break, say like 4 hours everyday.

Lest we do that, we are doomed to an existence that will dry up the milk of humanity that’s stored in all us. We will be a little like those zombies that abound in B grade Hollywood films, devoid of any spark in our lives. And then, whenever and if-ever there are those aliens that are (still) stupid enough to come to our planet, we would be as easy as KFC chickens for their colonised buckets. Do we really need that?

P.S. This article was composed on a mobile phone on the Evernote App, while being disconnected from the rest of people listening music on Google Play. These darn phones, I tell ya..

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