Dubai Diaries: Why I rejoiced during the social media outage
We met, laughed, ate, drank, chatted but without ever reaching out for our smartphones.
Last week, something ‘strange’ happened. A day began on a rather ordinary note. There were no major confrontations, no heartburns, there were even hardly any people to gossip with. I decided to meet some friends after work to exchange notes on what was really going on with each other’s lives. We met, laughed, ate, drank, chatted but without ever reaching out for our smartphones.
It was a day when Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp had all decided to call it quits and for once, conversations in the pub were happening a tad more spontaneously. My friends and I all had our fun conspiracy theories ready. What began as a lighthearted conversation soon turned into a more honest chat about our respective challenges in life.
It’s not that we are incapable of having such conversations, but there was something about remaining disconnected that felt particularly liberating. The unintended disruption had, even if for six hours, led to a much-needed digital detox.
We don’t often admit it to ourselves, but the smartphone fixation has cost us good conversations. As we increasingly access the world through a five-inch screen, our understanding of it quite possibly — and arguably — has shrunk considerably. On top of it, many of us make no bones about staying glued to our smartphones even as someone is attempting to have a conversation with us.
A well-intentioned cousin almost always reaches out to her mobile phone when she notices a few gazes being fixed at her. The intent behind these gazes is for her to add to the conversation going on, but in her smartphone, she has found means to fill those uncomfortable pauses. There was a time when I nearly thought that it was an attention-seeking tactic.
After all, it’s common courtesy that we attempt to listen to a person however boring or interesting they may be. Turns out, when you have nothing to say or add to a conversation, being glued to the smartphone helps.
And then there is the FOMO factor. Another friend who is a Twitter influencer back home just cannot take her gaze off her social media. I remember her once telling me explicitly that people prefer to consume her views compressed in tweets rather than go through a detailed, well-researched 2000-word report.
And even if the journalist in her cringes at the prospect of staying connected all the time, she has little choice but to accept the new realities of the digital age. Hence, when you try to strike a conversation with her, she looks at you for a second, and immediately checks her Twitter feed to see if she’s missed giving her two cents on a trending topic.
Which is why, those six hours when at least three of the major social networking platforms weren’t working were so unusual and even eye-opening. There was no urgency to see who’d called or who’d messaged. It was one of those times when we were simply ourselves again.
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