20 February 2017

Recalling the Dark Days Before Smart Phones Saved Us From Ourselves



I recall people going to gyms and working out 20 years ago and indeed much further back than that. As a matter of fact the gym I go to has been in operation for close to 100 years. I find this utterly baffling. How could people risk going to the gym? How could people be away from their phones for so long? What if there was an important message? How could anyone reach them immediately except by going to the gym and giving them the message verbally and then only if they knew said person was at the gym?

Today while on the treadmill I saw two different people text while on nearby machines. One stopped to answer a text and the other slowed down and texted while walking. This is not at all unusual. I see this all the time. I’m sure if someone had asked them why on earth they were texting during their workout they would have said it was important. Thank god you can bring your cellphone with you. I stupidly left my in my locker for the entirety of my hour long workout. There was no way for anyone to reach me. Even if it was important.

I’m sure the people who receive these messages during their exercise period couldn’t have torn themselves away from their phone in the dark ages before mobile phones. One wonders if they could have gone to movies or plays or sports events or to the park or out for a walk or camping or boating or to the circus or to visit friends or to weddings or funerals or whorehouses or cock fights or public executions. It’s like contemplating eternity to imagine a time when we blithely strolled the streets with no way for anyone to reach us. Think of all the important messages we missed?

But — as they say in commercials — that’s not all. People used to leave their homes with no access to what was happening at the very moment all over the world. That’s right. No Twitter, no news apps, no Facebook. Plus, sans Twitter. there was no way of finding out if someone famous or a friend or some stranger you thought was funny or someone connected to a news organization had shared a thought. Similarly there was no way to see the latest photo posted on Instagram (as it didn't exist, nor was there anything of its kind). People were terribly isolated. Sometimes people on an outing would have to resort to talking to one another as there were no cellphones to stare at. People at sports events would actually watch the game and talk to their companions because they not only didn’t have a cellphone, there were no contests, sing-a-longs, kiss cams or other diversions provided by big screens during time outs.

When I was a teenager mucking about with friends, we had to rely on our wits to occupy the times. We would share ideas, relate stories, tell jokes, argue, commiserate, explain, and even tell outlandish lies. How we survived with just that is difficult to imagine.

On buses people read newspapers or books or looked out the window or, if with someone, chatted. Sometimes people on buses would just sit and think. Strange, I know.

One of the horrors of those bygone years was the inability of taking and sharing pictures of your meals. You would have to see someone or talk on the phone and describe the plate of food you were served at a restaurant. Quite often you wouldn’t bother as you realized it wasn’t worth talking about. You also couldn’t take selfies alone or with friends. Duck faces were non existent. On those rare occasions when your photo was taken you would instead smile, or not. It was pure hell to walk around not taking photos of every little thing of interest and sending them immediately to people or posting them on a website. Think of what we missed. If you saw something worth remembering you just had to remember it. You were stuck having to experience life rather than recording it.

Yes the smart phone is an indispensable part of modern life. I’ve been given to understand that you can even use it to make phone calls. Imagine that.

1 comment:

sirish aditya said...

Good one Richard. On a serious note, don't you think many people are finding ways to subvert this Connection-Obsession? Don't you think we've gone past the worst period? Since the past 6 months, I've been reading more and more articles and books about people consciously staying away from all their fancy gadgets.

I think the last decade and a half was a more innocent period when we couldn't see past the advantages of access to information wherever a person was, ability to see and talk to loved ones at the click of a button, find people to follow, read and watch who were like us, have books and taxis at the doorstep. Every seismic technological/ cultural change promises utopia- that's the primary reason for its success. And then eventually we get disillusioned about it and get back to our lives. I think that journey has started. I think in a few years, we will again start living more fulfilling, rounded lives.