x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

We nearly had to remember how to fake enthusiasm

The social life on earth as we know it was at risk. It would be worse than the asteroid that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The planets, the stars and the moon were all lined up, portending an event that happens once in a million years. The social life on earth as we know it was at risk. It would be worse than the asteroid that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs.

When the event was announced in July, thousands went into a state of panic. "How are we going to survive?" a friend of mine asked. Others went into fits of anger and resentment before they finally learned to embrace the inevitable. Some sought divine intervention to postpone the day of reckoning, or simply asked for the strength to accept what would come to pass.

Others rushed out for supplies to prepare for that moment and some considered an alternative means of survival. The clock was ticking, and the day the officials proclaimed as the end came closer. But there was some solace to be found in our collective despair. People united in a manner never before observed. They said their final goodbyes and confessed their transgressions, attempting to make amends and ensure nothing was left unsaid.

But as if by magic, people were delivered from what they had most feared. Officials at the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority announced that they have come to an agreement with RIM (Research in Motion), the maker of the BlackBerry. Can life ever be the same after we came so close to catastrophe? The prospect of the ban made us consider how tethered we are to the devices and how dependent we are on its tools to stalk our friends and remain aware of their status and whereabouts.

Forget about plots in science fiction movies to implant a GPS transmitter in people's brains to keep track of them. We wilfully agreed to be part of such a project, giving our own movements away voluntarily with the radio signals of our BlackBerrys. Many addicted to their "crack-berries" confess to a dependence on its numbing and soothing effects. It's true that the BlackBerry world is a quieter one. People make few sounds firing away with their fingers rather than screaming into a phone. A BlackBerry ban would have forced us to tolerate again the sounds of those who mindlessly ramble into a piece of plastic. We would have had to actually hear people's voices in order to get in touch with them. Would we have been able to fake enthusiasm on the phone? We are out of practise since our deft little fingers have access to so many different kinds of smiley faces on our BlackBerrys.

Alas, the day is past us now, and we can learn something about ourselves from coming so close to the brink. I myself was in denial, trying to enjoy the last moments before it was too late, changing my status and my display picture in my messenger every two minutes. I snapped pictures of objects from my boring surroundings. Others were worse, refreshing Etisalat's Twitter feed for hours on end, hoping to receive word of their deliverance.

On the other hand, many were hoping that if BlackBerry were banned it would cure what has become a collective compulsion. Perhaps we could find other sources of meaning for the spasms we experience when we glimpse that blinking light from the corner of our eye. We could finally get a full night of sleep and not be woken by curiosities: Has someone contacted us at 3am? We have a love-hate relationship with our devices. They can rekindle relationships but can also keep them going when they might as well die.

Is information really what makes us feel alive?We don't really need all that much technology. And in fact, BlackBerrys provide the same service that the telex used to provide. It's a concise, fast and simple way to get a message across. No one would have thought this sort of technology would come back again after it slowly went into extinction with the rise of the telephone. If Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, what emoticon would he use to mark this day?

Hissa al Dhaheri is a sociologist and cultural researcher