Article: Let’s stop for a nano-second, shall we?

[Bahasa Indonesia]
First published in the Jakarta Post Weekender, September 2011


Have you ever “just had to” head home half way on your way to work simply because you forgot your cell phone? I am guilty as charged. I took that extra 30-minute trip back home to get it, and then set off on my journey through the Jakarta traffics all over again.

Yes, I am a self-confessed gadget enthusiast. And I didn’t realize how much until one day I had lunch with a friend. I wanted to tell her about another friend, so I accessed Facebook from my mobile gadget and showed her the pictures, then I YM-ed another friend who had not arrived, and tweeted pictures of our lunch to let the world know about it.

My friend gave me me a puzzled look. I blushed a bit, realizing what was going on in her head. You mean, that’s not normal?

That look from my friend was just what I needed to put me in my place. What was I doing? I was physically with my friend at lunch, but I was so into my gadget that I did not take note of what I was doing or where I was at all.

We often subconsciously allowed ourselves to be carried away with our gadgets and their “rhythm”. They can be so intoxicating and their rhythm is extremely fast. Just recently, I realized that whenever I received a mobile message, I felt compelled to respond to it immediately, and I must say, I expect other people to do the same. 10-15 minute response is considered way too long for a chat message, which is when we start “ping”-ing our friend, demanding an answer.

Now, if we look back in time and remember how it was before the Internet and mobile technology, it is amazing how we have changed so much. We used to settle with landline phones or coin-operated public telephones. We exchanged news through mail that might take days or weeks to get from one end to the other. We were willing to go the distance across town for a face-to-face chat with a colleague and friend.

How come we were so patient back then? And how did we lose our patience? It makes me wonder whether there is anything else I have ”lost” in this upsurge in gadget and technology usage.

Don’t get me wrong. I still love and enjoy my gadgets. They have their place and certainly their advantages. This article would not have come about if it were not because of my gadgets. In fact, this applies to most of the work I have done and some major decisions I have made these last few years. Not to mention all those awkward moments during traffic jams or in between meetings – thank God for Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, and androids.

Perhaps it is just the era. It is the time for mobile, wireless, and multimedia technology. Electronic gadgets are essentially, like most things in this ever-changing life, harmless, and even useful, fun and exciting.

Gizmo Gridlock
The interesting questions to me are: how am I with all of these gadgets? What am I really using them for? Where am I when I am using my gadget, or when I am not? And most importantly perhaps, how do I need to be within all this?

It seems that we do need a “system” that can make us stop occasionally, like that puzzled look on my friend’s face, so that we can check back with ourselves: What am I doing, really? Am I still with my friend at lunch or am I really somewhere else lost in the cloud?

The business world has actually realized how gadgets and all its applications can hamper staff productivity. Parents notice that their children can glue themselves to the latest gizmos, forsaking other activities that they need for social skills and physical activities. Both business and parents have done something about it.

It is, however, slightly trickier when it comes to ourselves. That is, to really take an honest look at ourselves and how we are with our gadgets. Who is in the driver’s seat, us or them?

Those brief stopping moments I mentioned—which may be brought about by puzzled look of a friend or a plea from our children for us to play with them—can serve as a precious tool to check whether we are still on course or we have got carried away with our gizmo.

It would also be interesting to do a little experiment every now and then and see how we are without our gadget. We can discipline ourselves to check our gadgets every so often and in between focus on what is literally before us. Or we can, for instance, do some gadget fasting, that is, to turn off our gadgets for a certain period of time.

Some friends of mine recently bet on how long they could last without checking their Blackberries. Not too long, I must say. Without saying whether this is positive or negative, it does say a lot about us.

And if I may take this further, if we go by the principle that what is going on outside of us can be a reflection of what is within us, is it possible that this gizmo-crazed world is a representation of how we are as a person? Do we allow other aspects of our life to “govern” us the way our gadgets do? Does our (lack of) awareness or control of our gadget represent our (lack of) awareness of our self or life in general? If so, how are we?

I shall leave it to you to respond to these questions. Do take a nano-second and give it some thought.

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