A few days back, Nokia smartphones released a new Diwali campaign that made me pause and reflect on my own habits. (You can see the ad here, if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jmYitvPC0c&feature=share.)
I’d like to believe I’m not really digitally addicted. I don’t have the Twitter app installed on my phone. I’ve don’t have the Facebook app on my home screen. I barely check my Instagram feed once in three days (on my computer). I’m famously bad in responding to emails, even though I have an email app on my phone.
This past week, I did something and realized only after I did it how radical it was even for me. I closed all the tabs on my laptop’s internet browser. Every single one. I used to be tethered to the rest of the world with Whatsapp Web, but no more. A quick check on notifications was always just a tab button away with my Facebook and Twitter windows always open. No more.
That’s when I realized how hopelessly addicted I was (am?) to the internet. Every few minutes my thumb and middle finger of my left hand would flick the keyboard shortcut on the Mac to toggle between whatever I was working on (Word, PowerPoint, less frequently, InDesign) to hop over for a quick check to Chrome. And each time I’d stop short, with an almost physical reminder kicking in that I had chosen to close my browser window. That’s when it became even harder to not reach for my phone — what’s the harm in just a quick peek at Twitter on the browser there? how about just a quick look at the FB newsfeed to see if there was any new gossip? how could I not get onto a news site to see what was going on in the world right now, in this moment? and what about those in-between moments when I was waiting for someone or something, I mean, come on, it was fully legit for me to want to play a quick game in between, no? or to quickly check Whatsapp — I swear I wouldn’t have started sending messag — hang on, let me just reply to this one text — you’re telling me even that is a no-no?
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I live in a different city from my parents. I don’t hate that fact, but I do wish I lived closer to them — especially now as age is visibly catching up with them, and I see them less frequently than I’d like to. But I still make it out to see them about once a month or so.
My mom still stubbornly refuses to have a phone of her own, forget her being anywhere near the social web. My dad discovered the social web only two years ago and he’s been hooked since. He’s got a tab for YouTube and videos, and his smartphone for Whatsapp and Facebook. But he’s got this amazing ability to completely disconnect when he’s not checking any of those. As in, he might as well be in a different postal code at that point. He doesn’t care if there might be any notifications, or even if the phone pings constantly with Whatsapp or text messages. He’ll only pay attention to the phone if there’s a call.
I’m the youngest of their children and the one still most prone to hang on to their coattails even now (although my dad gave up wearing a coat and suit many years ago, and my mom has only worn sarees as far as I know — but you get the point). That’s my way of saying I want to and love spending time with them. Over the last year or so, I have made seeing them regularly a priority, regardless of whatever else is going on in my life (work is a part — just a part — of that). It’s helped that they seem to continue to enjoy my company.
But even with that desire, that intent on both sides, and even with a deliberate attempt at a digital diet (I won’t go so far as to call it a digital detox — that would be admitting I have an addiction), this is how my time with them typically pans out.
I realize there’s a large part of my “grown-up” life that they are not a part of on a daily basis. And there’s a part of their daily lives that I’m not a part of it.
All they actually want is to share — moments and memories from their lives, some that include me, many that don’t. They want me to share moments and memories from my life, most that don’t include them.
What that requires — and they never demand it — is a mindful attention and interest to the conversations. They bring that all the time. But I catch myself wandering, with the phone being a convenient excuse to reach out to and pass the it’s-not-my-fault-the-thing-is-ubiquitously-demanding-and-you-know-how-it-is buck to.
My mom remembers specific conversations and details of events that have happened to them with us — their kids, my siblings. And she relives them as keenly as she lived them in the first place, giving me her full attention, and love.
My dad’s walks down memory lane are as vivid as the physical walks that he took me on, holding on to my hand so I wouldn’t be lost in the big bad world.
And when I tell them about my day, my work, my life in the present tense, they celebrate it with the same attention and interest as if it was their own life.
And I realize, suddenly, what it is exactly that they are giving me. It’s not just their time. Or their attention. Or their interest.
What they are actually saying is: “I am so happy you are with me. In return, I would like to give you myself.”
It’s the best gift I could ever ask for. And not just on Diwali. Although, because I am with them this Diwali, I am currently getting that gift on Diwali too. And they give it to me without my ever asking.