The dangers of 24x7 non-disengagement
Social media is a menace, it makes us unsocial, blank it out on your screen. Yada, yada, yada.
The bogey of the smartphone: can you afford to be disconnected at any time of the day — or night? Or not? Psychobabble from all over the world tells us that we should compartmentalise in order to retain our sanity. So, switch off whenever feasible. At dinner time, when the “family” sits down to eat together, you should engage physically and articulately (not virtually). On weekends, make it a point to keep work and social media at bay. There are tomes written on work:life balance by self-proclaimed experts, where substantial chunks egg us on with the importance of being in “off” mode. Keep the phone ringer on — in case an emergency crops up — but all other notifications “off”. Social media is a menace, it makes us unsocial, blank it out on your screen. Yada, yada, yada.
But really, how doable is it?
Last week, I decided, at long last, to fall in line. I have this horrible urge to check both my phones, thanks to FOMO (fear of missing out in realms of work and non-work); it’s the last thing I do before I retire for the night (while also sneaking in on a few rounds of Candy Crush), and the first thing I do when I log in to a new day. Worse, my charging station is my bedside table — a definitive no-no according to all mental health proponents.
That night, I decided to switch off completely, so I kept my phones on another table, at least six feet away from my bed, and put both on silent mode. Even if I woke up at night to drink water, I’d ensure I would not even look at them.
I slept late, around 1am, and I slept right through. Fitfully. When I woke up, I had no idea what the time was. Normally, I grab a phone to see the time; that day, I knew I’d have to get up and walk a few paces in order to grab it. I lingered in repose, in a half-awake state, when suddenly my landline started wailing. It sounded like a ricochet. I realised why. I’m in a hotel apartment, where every room — including the bathrooms — have a phone. They were all ringing together. I hurtled towards the one making the maximum sound, the one in the living room, and picked it up.
It was one of the sweet front-office guys — the ones who always have a kind greeting for me whenever they see me go out or come in. His voice was edgy with concern. “Ms Bose, are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, why, what happened?”
“A friend of yours has been calling frantically, she says you are not picking up your mobile and not responding to her messages, and she asked us to check on you. Oh, you were ‘last seen’ on WhatsApp around midnight, and missing since then.”
“I’m fine,” I said, wide awake now. “My mobile phone was/is on silent.”
“Good to know Ma’am. Have a great day,” he offered, and hung up.
I walked over to my phones (both fully charged), and noted the time. 10am. God. Okay. Then I noticed an aggregation of 15 missed calls and 129 WhatsApp notifications (many of them were, of course, ‘Good Morning’ and ‘How to stay safe from Covid’ forwards) from various names. I started calling back on the missed numbers and had my fill of “What the hell is wrong with you? I/we was/were so worried? Where is your phone? What’s the point of having a phone if it’s on silent? Are you crazy or what? And why were you awake till after midnight — were you not feeling well or what?”
A friend in India first raised the alarm at 9.45am, just 15 minutes before I woke up. He called a series of people in Dubai, asking them all to check on me. They did, and, therefore, I had now an aggregator score. The time I rose to the ‘getting myself a life’ challenge, I’d somehow fallen flat on my face.
On my way out to work, I stopped by at the front office. The sweet guy gave me a knowing smile. “I’m really sorry for the inconvenience caused,” I apologised. “I’ve learnt a lesson: I will never disengage from my phone and always keep it next to me. This has been so embarrassing.”
“You’re very lucky, Ma’am,” he responded. “Seems like you have a lot of people who care for you.”