Things are taking your attention and time away. The good news is that I have zeroed down on that exact apparition that makes you feel that you are spending your time well while in reality you are brutally murdering every passing minute. It’s that thing called notification on your smartphone.
On top of the pile of notifications served, Facebook, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, the three most downloaded apps (combined at ~4.1 billion downloads) do most of the heavy lifting for the notifications universe.
I can say that I have tried to a certain extent to take charge of my time here against these notifications. It has been a lonely battle under a hot sun in a marshy land where I have mostly been running away with weak legs but let me open up today.
On the top of the list of my few futile workarounds is how I choose to keep my phone when I am in office. I make sure it’s kept upside down. At work you are dealing with two devils constantly that are fittingly owned by one army. This deft move kills two birds with one stone .We’re talking about Facebook and it’s adopted child WhatsApp.
The next carefully crafted maneuver that I bring to the table is that I don’t have the Facebook Messenger or the Facebook app on my phone. And for for their evil child WhatsApp, I’ve turned off the notifications from appearing on my lock screen.
Why do I do this? Simply, because I want to be able to see these messages on my time and not when some stranger on some group (that I was involuntarily made a part of) decides to send me a tacky “Good Morning” picture with two hideous violet flowers.
I should be winning against these notifications by now but the reason I say that it’s a losing battle is because it’s only a matter of time before I come across as a slack (no pun intended) of a responder on the work-related Whatsapp groups. To respond immediately on WhatsApp work groups is an art that I haven’t perfected but shall have to in the interest of perceived efficiency of work. An impending retreat towards turning on the WhatsApp alerts is only a matter of time.
The other day we did a Facebook Live AMA with a dietician in our office for which I had to download the Facebook app. I hated having that app on my phone for that short while but let’s accept it, in this age of on-demand brand engagement sessions, this is a necessary evil. Of course, I deleted it right after the session got over but hey, I know it’s going to creep up soon. And I will have to compromise as well.
But I do have one axe that I can grind for life against the third demon: The Facebook Messenger App.
I fail to understand how does Facebook Messenger have 1.2 billion downloads to become the third most downloaded app of all time. How did Facebook do this to the people of my generation? The question to ask really is “How did Facebook con 1.2 billion people on this planet?”
There used to be an old joke that works best in Hindi but the English transliteration isn’t too bad either. It’s normally rendered by an elder in the family and comes after someone has done something stupid at a third-party’s behest.
“He told you, you did it? If he tells you to jump in the well, will you do it?”
At this point the recipient of this terse line, normally red-faced by now, understands that he acted without thinking. And so, 1.2 billion people on this planet, when faced with the message, “Download Messenger to access your messages because we taking it out of Facebook” got ready with their paraphernalia, gathered their legs together and jumped straight into the well. The good that’s coming out of FB Messenger that can’t be met with a call/text/WhatsApp is beyond reason.
But this was a digression, let’s come back to notifications where I am going to let my hypocrisy shine through a bit through this rather grim topic. I can’t deny that there is a temptation to pick up that very phone in a meeting and check the score of a Grand Slam semi-final during a meeting through a notification that’s arrived on time. Between friends, it’s a great thing to happen but in a group that doesn’t understand sport, this is a double-edged sword. One has to keep a somber face in a work meeting while checking this notification. This is necessary to exude a degree of confidence and significance to the matters at hand.
A little shrug comes in handy while you place the mobile back on the table after you have done your business. In your head you can be forgiven for thinking, “How the hell did Isner take two sets off Federer?” but that little shrug had a different connotation for the other attendees. What you said there with that little gesture is that that you were on the cusp of a million dollar deal that was to come through that very moment but it might need some more work.
The other time-killing event that occurs in our lives these days are those app updates. Personally, I find them terrifying. You have to know me a little better to understand why this is so. I never keep an unread mail in my inbox. I religiously delete even the Social and Promotional mails. I like keeping my inbox clean. Much like my toilet. You wouldn’t come to an unclean toilet in your home, would you ?
All through the last decade during this satellite TV boom and explosion of emails (read spam) in India, I have presented myself as a reasonable suitor for adopting technology. I keep things clean on my Tata Sky as well so that there is no little yellow envelope icon plonking itself top center during a live broadcast, so imagine what goes through my mind when I see 51 pending app updates on my iPhone.
It’s not because I don’t want these updates where the creators have gone over the fingerprints of a million user experiences to design that perfect app for me, only to update it again two weeks later (and again three weeks later) but it’s just that I can’t keep pace with it anymore. Between the time I finish my breakfast and get to my lunch, there is a pending app update.
Till last month, I used to bring it to zero pending updates (barring the iOS update which I detest the most) every single day but now I wonder what good is that rigor.
You might be right in thinking at this point why does this whiny, apocryphal, museum of a guy even keep a smartphone if he has so many issues with it? I have two points in my stodgy defence. One existential and one practical.
The practical one is the straightforward and more impactful one perhaps, so let me say this. I am sucked so deep in this mire of apps because of work, hunger and sports, that going back now is counter-productive. Having come this far with me in this piece, you might empathize.
The second point to that answer to that is if I do move to an ordinary phone, I won’t then be able to keep up with the conversations around my phone. “Oh you moved out huh?”, “ How could you survive with this?”, “Is it easy? I have been thinking of doing a phone detox myself. How did you prepare for this?”. Every single meeting would lead to a similar exchange.
I can’t take those conversations.
You see my problem right there. I can’t take the impersonal notifications and I can’t take the in-person interactions either. Life only presents the illusion of choice and you choose to go along with it.
If anything, life’s only passable, because right now I can order food through an app but it’s made worse because in spite of explaining your address and the landmark to this new delivery executive, you might still end up with an order of Paneer Bhurji instead of your order of Pork Vindaloo.