Wednesday, 29 September 2010
According to statistics in the UK most Britons spend almost half of their waking life using media and communications. Moreover, UK regulator Ofcom calculates the average person actually squeezes in the equivalent of nearly nine hours of media and communications by multi-tasking on several devices. Which means that if you’re awake for around fifteen hours, you spend seven hours of them watching TV, listening to radio, emailing, texting, surfing the internet, playing games and other activities that require gadgets.
I beg to differ. Personally I spend a lot more hours than that interacting with my gadgets. Perhaps even my entire waking hours. Not to mention sleeping with one on the bed or at least having the device within arms reach.
Upon waking I turn the alarm off and check the time on my Blackberry. My bathroom routine is not complete without a quick scroll of my Twitter timeline to see what exciting things I’ve missed when still asleep, while sitting on the toilet or brushing my teeth. Shower time is probably the only time that I don’t have the device in my hand as I don’t have a waterproof cover for my phone yet.
In the car my eyes, ears and fingers are constantly occupied, watching the car TV, listening to the radio, texting, instant messaging, updating my Twitter status, having a group discussion on my mobile, reading the news online, taking pictures of interesting things that catch my eye on the way to the office and occasionally even making and receiving phone calls.
At the office I work on my laptop with one eye on the TVs (two of them), writing, sending emails, watching online videos, making presentations, uploading photos, surfing the internet, listen to music, downloading applications and all the other wonderful things you could now do with those sleek and handsome-looking devices.
Going out for a meal, the chances are my friends are similarly occupied even as we sit together and engage in real (as opposed to virtual) conversations. Because we also have our zillion online friends to maintain with our regular status updates and whose activities we follow obsessively even as we barely know them.
Repeat the scenario at home, plus throw in some video or computer games, and you get a pretty good idea of my pathetic little life.
All of these endless multi tasking make me feel busy and yet most of the time however, I find myself not remembering half of what I’ve done, seen, read or listened to. I don’t feel any more efficient. I’m still an eleventh hour writer when it comes to deadlines. If anything I get distracted easier and it takes me longer to get anything done. To open the computer is to expose oneself to a cornucopia of tempting activities and succumb to the seduction of the lotus-eaters, none of which is related to the PowerPoint or the MS Word.
I don’t read a newspaper. I skim lots of online news from different sources, at the same time. I seem to find it hard to get through books these days though I take comfort in the fact that I have the entire classics in my e-book application just in case I have the time. Rather I’m drawn to the mini stories that I follow on Twitter called FiksiMini. These are 140 character fictions created by Twitter users and amateur writers on a particular theme with some of them so well written they could pass as haikus. Why bother ploughing through a whole novel by a famous author when you could just as easily lose yourself in a series of three-sentence stories?
Even as technology allows you to do more things, enable you to have information as it happens or even before (Twitter is good with sending condolences and obituaries even before the person dies) and get you connected with your idol not just in the realm of dreams but on your Timeline, today’s multitasking generation however, would probably never experience the art of doing one thing at a time, the joy of focusing on and completing a task uninterrupted and the delight in savouring a moment.
At home, the fixed phone has become a relic of the past, a quaint thing that gathers dust, while the answering machine looks ridiculously large and unwieldy. There was a time however, when we could remember tens of phone numbers by heart and when we don’t know who is calling us when the phone rings. There was a time when we made and kept our appointments on time without recourse to constant updates on our whereabouts and how late we were going to be.
I remember how pleasant it was to spend hours on the phone having long, uninterrupted conversations without your ears getting radiated, because chatting meant using your vocal cord and not your thumbs, and conversing is with real friends and not sharing opinions and secrets with thousands of people you don’t know.
I also remember the pleasure of writing long letters in cursive on fine paper, signing my name with a flourish, folding it and licking the envelope shut and taking it to the post office to have it stamped and mailed. And I would collect those stamps, keeping them in books as if they were works of art and looking up in big encyclopaedias about the countries they came from.
And I also recall the satisfaction of finishing a thick novel after hours of uninterrupted reading and returning it to the library.
During these moments I was undisturbed. I was single tasking and I savoured every moment of it.
(Desi Anwar: First published in The Jakarta Globe)