By Namaah Dec. 15, 2016
I’ve been berated for being glued to my phone instead of having “real conversations”. But I don’t fancy the phone as a coping mechanism when faced with awkward silences.
Esperanto, with about two million known speakers and growing, is the most widely spoken constructed language in the world. Created by physician LL Zamenhof in 1887, its goal was to create a politically neutral language that would transcend nationality, foster peace, and international understanding between people with different languages, while being exceptionally easy to learn.
I read about Esperanto while surfing Reddit on my way back home from work. I texted my fiancée (now husband and fellow enthusiast of all things man-made) about it. At dinner, we sat in silence clinking cutlery with one hand, and scrolling rabidly through our phones with the other, gabbing with each other for ways to learn this cool new language we’d just got to know about. It may not fit your regular idea of a romantic dinner, but candlelight’s got nothing on the way our phone screens lit our faces.
If we were at a restaurant, you’d take one look at us and decide that we’re a typical dysfunctional urban couple well on our way to splitsville and while I’m wholly aware of that, I can’t say I give a shit. I am my phone’s biggest fan and five whole hours of my day are devoted to it. That little gadget has taught me things I had no idea I needed to know. It has exposed me to opinions that enrich or offend me to extents I didn’t know were possible. And before you chastise me for not living in the real world, interacting with real people, or somehow (and this one never fails to get under my skin) escape the realities of life by immersing myself in the frivolities of the virtual world, consider that the internet isn’t code generating itself. It is people like you and me, although slightly less lazy, creating tools and experiences so that everyone can partake.
If you own a phone, you’ve probably been berated for using it too much instead of looking around for people to incessantly interact or have “real conversations” with. It has probably been lamented that how you’re perpetuating a culture so attached to superficial devices that it’s making you unfathomably lonely. The truth really is that I could name about a couple hundred people I wouldn’t be friends with, had it not been for the wonders and accessibility of social media and I wouldn’t know when to wish most of the remaining friends a happy birthday, eventually losing them to someone with a better memory.
I don’t particularly fancy my phone as a coping mechanism when faced with awkward silences or elaborate confrontations and I almost never whip my phone out while purposefully engaging in a conversation – that would be counterproductive. But yes, I do enjoy the company of my phone more than that of most people I meet, and that certainly isn’t the phone’s fault. I can assure you that the article on sonoluminescence I read is infinitely more entertaining and informative than my aunt’s rant about the weather… Or was she talking about the traffic? I don’t know, I wasn’t listening.
When you look at today’s digital fixation, the facts are much more positive than you might expect.
Now here you go again, judging me for not bonding with my aunt, but my family Whatsapp group is testament to the fact that we actually do bond, better perhaps than in the real world, because when she posts inspirational quotes attributed to Marilyn Manson, I feel a deep affection for her that I’ve seldom felt when she’s talking about the health benefits of bhindi.
So you can go ahead and demand my undivided attention, but you should know that you’re probably not always up against an inane arcade game, or a Snapchat with an acquaintance in an attempt to conceal the crippling effects of existential ennui. I could be reading the news, wishing a friend happy birthday, or signing a petition that helps me align, even if in the most insignificant way, with a cause I believe in.
Over the past two decades, people have turned to the internet to seek and readily find validation, work, viewership, love, support, and justice. The web has spurred revolutions, helped mitigate atrocities, and democratise content. Yet, a veritable lot of us insist on inculcating a culture that considers technology the cornerstone to an impending apocalypse. New technologies have always provoked generational panic, which usually has more to do with adult fears than with the coming generations. In the ’30s, parents fretted that radio was gaining an invincible hold of their children. In the ’80s, the great danger was rock music. When you look at today’s digital fixation, the facts are much more positive than you might expect.
Please let’s not let our anachronistic fetishisation of this slightly grandiosely titled “human experience” lead us down a dwindling path of discounting the benefits of being connected at all times. A person stranded during a flood has more chances of finding shelter by way of social media than through word of mouth. They also have a higher chance of survival by Googling dos and don’ts with regards to the conundrum they find themselves in, as opposed to resorting to old wives’ tales that stand as much chance of solving one’s problem as they do of creating an additional one.
And finally, here’s the thing: you owe the world nothing at all. You could contemplate the role of pigeons (aka sky rats) in the food chain, bake a cake made entirely of organically sourced camel tears, or finally do your laundry. But you could just as well embrace the JoMo and lay here reading this as your poor mother calls out to you for breakfast for the fourteenth time until she has to text you an impassioned rant on the family Whatsapp group.
Seriously, now you’re just being a lazy arsehole.