Sliceoflife: Be smart...
... and not a smartphone addict; true, internet can change lives, but know when to put a stop to the obsession
Recently my mother, who lives in a tiny village in Kerala, visited me. In her village, the local gossip is faster than the internet and if you mention servers, you would be referring to the uniformed waiters who bring you tea in the local restaurant. My mother had never used a smartphone in her life. She kept insisting that her ‘dumb-phone’ (as she likes to refer to it) was adequate for her. I told her that it was high time I got her one, mainly because she could be connected to my children who are travelling abroad for higher education. I also had a selfish motive. If she got one, I could also send my columns published in this daily.
Finally after much persuasion, she relented. I bought her an iPhone 6, and a data plan, which I could take care of, online. Then began the task of teaching her to use the phone, for which I recruited my children — two young adults, the millennials who pretty much live inside their smartphones. Between the three of us, she learnt how to use it very quickly. She got initiated into Whatsapp. Soon after, I opened an Instagram account for her.
Now every morning, we are greeted with a lovely picture that she clicked. The photos are picturesque, scenic and capture the natural beauty of God’s own country. The other day, when she sent us a video of Kerala’s relentless monsoon, captured from her kitchen window, we were blown away. She had slowly transformed into a ‘tech-savvy’ granny.
Earlier, whenever I had to send her a flight ticket, which I book online, she had to travel to the nearest Akshya Kendra — a unique and a wonderful initiative by Kerala government. The Akshaya project has centres in all rural districts in the states and it offers a lot of services like electronic payment of utility bills like electricity, landline, drinking water etc; E-Krishi for farmers to provide online agricultural trading, E-Vidya for making people computer literate. It is one of the largest known wireless networks in the world.
Now, with her smartphone, my mother avoids the visit to the Akshaya Kendra and instead flashes her e-boarding pass at airports. The internet, has made her life convenient.
But the key difference that I notice among older people who use the internet and the younger generation is that, smartphones are as essential as air to the millennials. Unlike the older generation, the new generation is completely lost without their phones. Take away their phones, and you will have a lot of vacant, lost people who have no idea how to do anything.
The fact is, a lot of us live our lives online. With increasing urbanisation and people moving away from their hometowns, relocating to big cities in search of jobs, it is the Internet which provides us our friends, our connections, our excitement and our ‘daily fix’— be it in the form of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or google, pick your poison. There are apps for everything, including sex. Earlier you needed the right person, the right time and the right opportunity. But now you only need to swipe right.

Time that we spend on internet is growing in alarming proportions. According to reports in an international technology magazine, while only a quarter of India’s 1.32 billion population are connected to the internet, we have over-taken China, in terms of amount of time spent online. Indians spend about four and a half hours online, every day, which is a whole hour more than the average amount the Chinese, with a population of 1.38 billion spend. (Statistics from Wearesocial.com).
Studies tell us that technology also isolates us in ways we never even realise, lulling us into a false sense of being connected. Numerous papers presented by psychologists reveal how internet is causing depression in a large number of people, as it becomes the primary mode of outlet for social interaction. A study by Stanford University found that just two to five hours of internet usage per week, causes a person to lose a sense of their real-life environment.
The internet is here to stay. Our lives are increasingly going to be governed by technology. But the rewards of a face-to-face interaction — where you see actual smiles and not just emoticons punched into a smartphone, where you can talk for a few hours, and laugh, where you care enough to make time to go and meet the person — are priceless.

(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books,the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)
Columnist: 
Preeti Shenoy
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