Surviving Yet Another Smartphone Launch: A Technophobe’s Trauma


Surviving Yet Another Smartphone Launch: A Technophobe’s Trauma

Illustration: Arati Gujar/Akshita Monga

Welcome to 2018, where people change their phones with more diligence than they change their underwear. In this modern dystopia, the OnePlus 6 launched in India today, and made ₹100 crore worth of sales in the first ten minutes. Safe to assume that even more than vikas or jobs, what us Indians really want is a bitchin’ new smartphone.

The OnePlus 6 launch was treated with the kind of anticipation you think would be reserved for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. People were ready to take loans, trade in their old phones, and perhaps even their decrepit parents for a chance to be the first to say “Nu phone, who dis?” on launch day. The OnePlus is supposed to be the “flagship killer”, a competitively priced alternative with comparable features to the latest iPhones and Samsung models on the market. The way tech geeks have been creaming their pants over its 6.28-inch screen, 128GB storage, and 16-megapixel front and back cameras makes me wonder if this is a mere phone, or Iron Man’s newest suit.

Great – except for technophobes like me who feel left out every time a new phone launch is about to take place.  

I desperately try to figure out what 2.8GHz octa-core processor means in plain English; for all I know it could be a hidden jetpack feature I have yet to discover. The whole world could be harping on about how this year’s OnePlus 6 is superior to last year’s OnePlus 5T in terms of RAM, but all it takes to impress folks like me is that my two-year-old Motorola has an in-built stand in its cover. The smartphone craze has happily passed me by, thanks to my aversion to engaging with any technology more sophisticated than a blender, brought on by childhood overexposure to James Cameron’s The Terminator. Even so, I find smartphones creepier than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blank expression while saying, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Yup, I’m the guy who believes every last one of those theories floating about. For starters, there is the litany of ways your phone can be used to snoop on you has rendered the profession of spying obsolete. Aside from tracking your data, there’s the ever-present (especially if you’re paranoid) threat of its lithium battery overheating and going kaboom in your pocket, leaving you with no choice but to adopt if you want children – and that is in the event of you surviving the explosion. If I were to channel my inner Social Justice Warrior, I’d use this opportunity to bring up how smartphones fastrack the planet’s depredation.

But I digress, because the real bone of my contention with smartphones doesn’t lie with the ways in which they could potentially ruin my life; it lies in the ways they already have. I’ve lived in Mumbai all my life, and could navigate around the city using public transport even before I got my first set of wheels. 3G internet coupled with Google Maps put an end to my career as an intrepid urban explorer, reducing me to the dork who’s always checking satellite traffic for better routes, even though finding an empty road in Mumbai is like looking for subtlety in Honey Singh lyrics.

Back when Windows ’98 was the pinnacle of computing, it was said the human brain was the most powerful supercomputer on the planet.

The next thing my smartphone pillaged was my ability to recall names, numbers, and places. When I got my first cellphone (shout out to former Nokia N-Gage QD owners), it took me a week to start using the Contacts feature, because I could call all my friends’ landlines from memory. Today however, I will need you to give me a missed call so I can save your name, the place I met you, and reason we talked on my phone before I forget we ever met. I know I’m not alone. We’ve all become Elizabeth Banks’ character from 2014’s Walk of Shame, where she loses her phone, borrows a stranger’s to call for help, and then realises she can’t because she doesn’t remember anybody’s phone number.

You don’t need me to tell you – because every single media outlet has already said it – but smartphones have made us stupid. Sure, we can end the trivia arguments that spring up while drinking with a quick dash to Google, but what’s the trade-off? A slew of apps that remind us to do things as basic as drink water, get off our ass and exercise, or keep track of accounts between friends, are all proof that we’ve outsourced basic cognitive function to the machines. I’m guilty of using every one of the examples mentioned above, and once I discovered the convenience I found performing the same tasks mentally as difficult as Nirav Modi must find filing honest tax returns.

Back when Windows ’98 was the pinnacle of computing, it was said the human brain was the most powerful supercomputer on the planet. Smartphones, on their arrival, have decided to usurp the title by sabotaging the competition – us. They’ve groomed us into forgetful clods that spill coffee in their laps trying to zoom into an image on Instagram. They ruin intimate moments and engaging conversations alike, butting in to remind you that the virtual world offers more validation than reality. Worst of all, they allow all the annoying family members and acquaintances you’d rather keep at an arm’s length to live in your pocket and bombard you with fake news and spam messages.

Call me hipster, Luddite, caveman, or whatever else you’d like, but I’m wary of upgrading to an even more sinister version of the demonic artefact that we’ve so casually allowed to take over our lives. If getting your hands on a shiny new gizmo like OnePlus 6 is a priority for you, Godspeed. Pretend like it’s 1080 x 2280 pixels resolution and Oreo or Choco or Monaco OS make a significant difference to your quality of life.

If you need me I’ll be in my room, rewatching The Terminator.