x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Even if people are a click away, spare a moment for real social life

Put the mobile phone away and experience real life again

The other day, I found a relic from the past in a box under my bed. It was a Garfield (yes, the cat) landline phone, one that used to have a voice message option on it. The phone and I shared a long and fun history together, with its orange light alerting me to messages left on my phone.

It was such a lovely feeling to come home and check the messages at my convenience, instead of how it is today where the messages check up on us and demand immediate replies.

At the risk of sounding like my parents, I find myself missing the “good old days”. Those were the days that people didn’t cancel on you at the last minute by sending you a text with “sorry dear”, saying this or that came up, or are late but feel justified by sending you messages like “on the way, seven minutes” that turns into a full hour, and other instances of disregard for one’s time.

Despite our “instantaneous” smart phones, people still take days to return phone calls, tend to drop you a line or two instead of calling on special occasions and simply stay attached to their smart phones like a mother to a baby through some invisible umbilical cord.

Few today remember the days of regular phones, dial ups and digital and cordless pagers before the invasion of the “smart” phones that have taken over us and turned us into obsessive slaves to notifications on various social media formats. This “I must stay connected” has turned us into the most antisocial bunch of people – more and more studies show that people are getting lonelier and more aggressive over time.

I now tend to think that those messages can wait but until recently I, like most people, was guilty of this antisocial behaviour. I would put my smart phone somewhere near me on the table or peeking out of my purse so that I could see or “hear” incoming messages or emails as they arrive. They come almost waving at you incessantly with “check me! check me@” with that red blinking light. I was a slave to that flashing light.

But now, I keep that phone inside the bag whenever I sit with someone. I’m enjoying my time more.

Ultimately, we need our phones, but we need to be careful about how much we let them control us. The next time you are at a restaurant or cafe, please have a look around, I am willing to bet that you will see some of these: a couple or two sitting across each other, and instead of looking at each other “romantically” as we single people imagine we would be sitting with our loved ones, they are looking down at their phones, texting away, smiling at a screen that couldn’t care less even if you stuck your tongue at it. They do look up, say a few sentences and then there they go again, heads down, neck bent, checking their phones, this time with a sandwich in their other hand or a drink. Friends do the same.

They will take photos of their food or of themselves and post them on Instagram, when they should be enjoying the moment with the people around them. At the end of the day, these photos actually look pretty lame and tell no story as the person who took it were too busy taking photos.

Our holiday photos are now all “selfies” of ourselves looking ridiculous posing in front of our phone. No one really likes them, even if you get many “likes” on Facebook after posting them. Unmemorable. Compare them to your childhood photos and see the difference.

What I find particularly sad is that someone would often tell their Facebook friends their latest news before they even tell their loved ones at home waiting for them.

We shouldn’t take people for granted, and while it may seem like they are a click away, nothing beats actually sitting with them over a cup of coffee with the phone buried away somewhere, not intruding on our moment.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau