Never alone with mobile technology

Our love-hate relationship with smartphones

LIKE Datuk Seri Najib Razak, I, too, have a Twitter account. But unlike the prime minister who has 418,461 followers, I have only 100.

While he has posted more than 2,000 tweets, mine number 672. Somehow, I prefer to update my status on Facebook instead, where I find it much easier to handle the traffic.

You need not have our phone numbers to connect to us.

You can follow our tweets, which can also be connected to our Facebook accounts.

As William Powers writes in his book Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, we live in a world where everyone is connected to everyone else all the time.

I believe that being connected in whatever form is important in this day and age although my friends have sarcastically reminded me that I have hardly done any calling or texting.

In fact, I was the last among my friends to embrace mobile technology back in the late 1980s.

As a mobile phone user, there will never be a time when you’re not alone. Even if your phone may be switched off at certain times, you are still considered connected somewhat!

Some friends like that very much. There are those who prefer to fly Emirates, which not only offers competitive fares compared with other airlines, but also allows passengers to use their hand phones once the plane reaches cruising altitude.

“Today, we’re always just a few taps away from millions of other people, from endless information and stimulation. Family and friends, work and play, news and ideas — sometimes it seems everything we care about has moved to the digital room. So we spend our days there, living in this new ultra-connected way,” writes Powers.

The connectedness makes us all busier. The emails, texts and voice mails; the pokes, prods, and tweets; the alerts and comments; the links, tags, and posts; the photos and videos; the blogs and vlogs; the searches, downloads, uploads, files and folders; feeds and filters; walls and widgets; tags and clouds; the usernames, pass codes and access keys; pop-ups and banners; ringtones and vibrations.

And, he adds, “By the time you read this, there will be completely new modes of connecting that are all the rage. Our tools are fertile, constantly multiplying”.

Powers says we need to revisit our relationship to screens and mobile technologies.

He talks about having a conversation on the phone with his mother and the “unexpected surge of emotion” after the phone call, as well as the brief solitude he found when he fell off his boat, “killing” his hand phone at the same time.

I recall an interview I had with former prime minister Tun (then Datuk Seri) Dr Mahathir Mohamad for the first issue of the now-defunct Nuance on Jan 5, 2003, where he talked about what technology had taken away from us.

He had referred to Tun (then Datin Seri) Dr Siti Hasmah’s penchant for SMS-ing using the mobile phone.

“My wife does that. She doesn’t talk to me any more. In the car, when we should be busy talking to each other, she would be busy SMS-ing the children. She doesn’t hear what I say or see the scenery outside the car,” he had said.

But here’s the flip-side of it all.

Screens and mobile technologies give me that sense of connectedness to people: my own brother (we don’t talk all that often but he prompts me on Facebook to help him build his ‘city’, we tag each other’s photos and other stuff and SMS if we need something from each other), cousins whom I meet once a year during Raya, nieces and nephews who are all over the country and friends, from school and those I know through work here and abroad.

My close friends know I’m an SMS, BBM or WhatsApp away from them, any time of the day.

I agree somewhat with Powers that there is no depth in the relationship via the screens and mobile technologies compared with a face-to-face interaction.

You still need that physical contact (over coffee or tea, lunch or dinner), but when people are too busy to meet up, you have no other alternative but to depend on the screens and mobile technologies.

I’ve held long conversations with friends via Facebook and Google chats, SMSes and BBMs and given them virtual hugs and blew them those virtual kisses.

At the end of the day, it’s all about how we manage ourselves.

Also, there is this little red indicator on the hand phones and gadgets, some of which come with a symbol of a vertical line in a circle. It’s called the On/Off power switch.

It shuts down hand phones and gadgets and puts computers on sleep or hibernation mode.

You have the option of using it.

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