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My digital detox

On Saturday last week I deleted my Whatsapp. The next day I deleted Twitter from my Blackberry (yes I use one!). The reason — a virus kept replicating every message on the Whatsapp and Twitter account in my email inbox, even after being deleted.

At the time of sending this column, I hadn’t managed to get it fixed and continue to do without any social media apps. The first day was full of withdrawal symptoms, primarily a constant checking of the phone.

Since then three things have happened. One, there is this tremendous feeling of lightness, a de-stressing that is completely unexpected. Two, it has been a phenomenally productive week at work. Three, I am paying a lot more attention to what my son is saying to me.

The fact remains that there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much mental bandwidth that one has. And chatting with former batchmates, looking at a cousin’s wedding pictures or even getting into a ‘tweegument’ on an article that is doing the rounds takes up time. Representation Pic/thinkstock
The fact remains that there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much mental bandwidth that one has. And chatting with former batchmates, looking at a cousin’s wedding pictures or even getting into a ‘tweegument’ on an article that is doing the rounds takes up time. Representation Pic/thinkstock

If it seems like this is going to be one of those columns about how digital and social media is a negative force, perish the thought. More media has been a huge blessing. There is more variety in content, devices and in access. Even ten years back it would have been impossible to think that you could be talking to your uncle in Los Angeles on FaceTime or watching an American show online that aired last night.

But the fact remains that there are only 24 hours in a day and there is only so much mental bandwidth that one has. And chatting with former batchmates, looking at a cousin’s wedding pictures or even getting into a ‘tweegument’ on an article that is doing the rounds takes up time.

You and I have probably seen dozens of couples, parents or teenagers with their eyes glued to a smartphone. They could be answering work mails, playing a game, checking their FB status, reading or responding to a tweet or a Whatsapp message.

There is, it seems, always a reason to be looking at a screen. Just like there is always, a reason to eat that extra roti or that second piece of cake or a third scoop of ice cream. But guess what happens when the morning no longer begins by reaching for the phone. You actually hear the sounds around you, maybe even read the newspaper.

There is no hyper-messaging, no quick repartees and so on. Your social media life is restricted to the time you spend in front of the laptop. I am enjoying it so much that I will keep to my detox diet for a bit. That is what I did last year with news channels. I stopped watching them because they upset me hugely with their insensitive, loud and sub-standard reporting and anchoring.

Since my argument has always been that the consumer has the remote and therefore the power, I used it. It has been wonderful. Now, the only news channels I go to, on and off, are Al Jazeera, BBC and NDTV 24X7. Much of this is personal anecdotal stuff. But it finds resonance across a cross-section of professionals from other industries.

And this relative media isolation brings to mind something a very senior manager in The Times Group told me, many years ago. That the more media there is, the more society gets divided and polarised. You can see that happening in entertainment television. There are channels for upper class Hindi homes and middle class ones and lower class ones. There are channels for Telugu speakers and for Bhojpuri ones.

There are channels for Maharastrians and for Tamilians. And within each language there are options on music, film, news, general entertainment and what not. As a result ghettoes of audiences, by languages, by social class, have started forming. One ghetto doesn’t know the debates or thoughts passing through another one.

The result is a more polarised world where each ghetto thinks their viewpoint is the most important one. There are hardly any grey areas. The good thing about more media, more devices and more connectivity however is that the individual has a ball. I can watch the TV I want, on the device I want and in the language and place I want it in.

How then to balance these two extreme — very little media and the ignorance it breeds or plentiful media and the polarisation and hyper-activity that goes with it? By the occasional detox, like the one I am going through.

And what’s more it is fashionable too. The next time someone quibbles about you not responding to Whatsapp messages, just tell them, you are having a digital detox.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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