No, it’s not about my pointless Insta stories.
Less than 24 hours after I prided myself on my independence, my cell phone crashed. Ordinarily, this would seem like two separate instances—a woman’s independence and a rectangular handheld gadget—but it wasn’t quite so simple. The fleeting sense of achievement I’d experienced was entirely dependent on Uber, a car booking app, and Google Maps. I was alone in Chandigarh for the very first time, and I was relying on the good sense and navigation expertise of my Uber driver, and my ability to read Google Maps, to deliver me in one piece to my ailing grandmother. And I was mighty proud of myself at that. So, a day later, when my phone died, it took away my independence, sense of empowerment and feeling of being in control. The ground beneath my feet had shifted. And this raised a few questions in my mind about the extent to which we rely on technology today.
It’s interesting how the smart phone has enabled the independence of women. In a new city? Find your way with Google Maps. Don’t have a car? Book an Uber. Hungry? Order on Swiggy. Don’t know where to stay? Book an Airbnb. Want to pay a bill? Choose Netbanking. Unlike paper maps, regular taxis, restaurant home delivery and hotels, these “apps” are accountable if your driver misbehaves, food is contaminated, or room is dirty. And with users giving ratings and writing firsthand reviews, it only adds to the feeling of empowerment, when you make a choice based on your deduction of the average opinion of 14910 others. It’s hard to explain the feeling of elation you get on landing the ideal balance of an above average rating that also fits in your budget. Therefore, it was only natural, that when my source of empowerment and entertainment stopped functioning, I felt like a lost child.
But is this healthy? The fact that we no longer remember phone numbers, that addresses have lost their meaning, that our sense of direction is dependent on an electronic voice, that we constantly need to check our phones for WhatsApp messages and memes from friends, to validate our existence? Many would hands down say no. After all, isn’t it a sign of severe deterioration of cognitive ability to no longer be able to memorize phone numbers or recall directions? Whatever happened to the feeling of joy on locating an address based on a “landmark” from which you were to take the second left, cross the fifth vegetable seller and then look for a black gate–“no not the large one, but the smaller bling-and-miss one”—and then take a U turn to arrive at your destination? Whatever happened to good ol’ talking to people over the phone rather than half-hearted WhatsApp texts and Instagram DMs that are often “read” and not replied to?
It’s hard to argue with the logic.
Nevertheless, all the cognition required in earlier days to traverse new grounds only kept us from venturing beyond our comfort zones. For, if we were lost and didn’t have a cell phone, how were we to call for help, WhatsApp our live location to a friend or google map our way to the nearest familiar space? Unsurprisingly, rarely did women venture beyond the familiar when travelling alone, and even when they did, they’d dare not travel after sunset. Today, we travel at all hours of the day and night, within the country and abroad, and often take off into open roads and unknown streets, by Google mapping our way.
Which brings me to the “godsent” smartphone, a device I openly dissed and loved to mock, until I was left without it, in an unfamiliar city. The thing is, I had always associated phones with phone calls, social media narcissism–#ootds and #wanderlusts, and text messages, things I was happy to forgo as an experiment, for a limited amount of time. What I was unprepared for, was losing out on Uber, Google Maps, Netbanking, Airplane ticket download, E-Aadhar card and the fact that, increasingly, almost every transaction required an OTP. What I was also not expecting, was losing out on my independence.
The sense of invincibility, I’d felt as I made my way in a relatively unknown city to my grand mum’s quarters in an Uber, Google-mapping the directions, was replaced with a feeling of complete disorientation and dread when my phone blanked out. Which made it clear that I am only as independent and empowered as my smartphone. Take it away, and I am a nothing person. Does this mean, I have a false sense of self? That I am not really as independent as I think I am? That I am only as smart, independent and empowered as my smartphone allows me to be? That, by being dependent on my phone, I am simply entrusting a gadget the place previous generations granted their husbands and fathers? That it’s time to end this toxic relationship disguised as a happily-ever-after? That it’s finally time to break up?
Since I respect my phone too much to ghost it, I should probably just start getting really “busy”.