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Imagine this. Children playing outside all day. As dusk falls, everyone goes home and eats dinner seated together without any of the ‘usual’ distractions of today (read cell phones, iPads, tablets and the likes) as a family. After dinner, they even catch a favourite show on television, discussing the next day’s activities, or events, before proceeding to call it a day and head off to the bedrooms. The next day people do the same thing and repeat the cycle. This is how life was when we were growing up. Before cell phones and PCs entered our lives and changed things inside out forever.

In those days, our parents knew their friends and their parents. People had conversations with their neighbours every day. Mothers often shared recipes and ingredients with each other and knew the best-kept secrets of their soul-sisters with whom they chatted almost every day while sewing or knitting together. They knew about the lives of their next door neighbours almost as their own. It was common to see the dads standing by the garage or by the gates talking about all kinds of things, ranging from politics to price rise and inflation and the weather. Neighbours were like family. Families created relationships with people by sharing time with them and interacting. Children got their knees dirty quite literally, mostly because of tossing the ball around, jumping fences and walls, with grimy shirts from playing far too long outside and sweating it out, skipping studies and then, sneaking home quietly through the backdoor, tiptoeing, with that sheepish grin and a tan that only comes from having too much sun on their faces. Minus the sunscreens, of course. That was our world. And we were a much happier lot.

Today, everything has changed. An entire way of living has disappeared and has been replaced by a new generation and a very different way of doing things. To begin with, children do not play outside anymore as they used to. Perhaps, they still do, in some small towns, or villages. City kids spend far too little time playing outside. Most families have both parents working and kids are ‘busy’ attending classes to keep themselves busy or avoid getting bored. Again, from the time they’re in middle school, they are under pressure to chart out a career path, so once again, they get busy ‘gaining’ knowledge attending coaching classes, and researching the internet, when they’re not seen glued to social networking sites on their iPads, tablets and PCs. It is one thing to use technology as a resource and as a mother of a ten-year-old, I am all for it. But, obsession is quite another thing. ‘Where does one draw the line?’, asks a mum whose son goes to the same school as mine. For one, the habit of reading has become the first casualty in the lives of most kids. And then, there are those who are ‘sent’ by over ambitious parents for a variety of extra-curricular activity classes, and one can often see mums waiting to pick up the kids, glued to their smartphones. There is no escape, I say!

I often wonder – do such classes really match up to the fun and enjoyment of actually going out there and indulging in unstructured play? Parents are unanimous about how difficult it is to make kids happy these days. In spite of having the most prized gifts that we could only have imagined in our younger days, children these days get bored very quickly. All too often, kids end up sad little beings fighting loneliness and a whole host of issues that should never happen to them. They suffer from depression and anger. Too much going on the inside, the counsellors say. Understandably, a lot has changed. The pace is too fast and childhood is usually the first casualty in our children’s lives. So why are things the way they are? And, more importantly, between our childhood and theirs, what has changed so much?

A lot apparently. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the metros, where dads and mums work in different shifts, in varying hierarchies, across two, sometimes, three different time zones, and have late-night calls, and meetings at odd hours with no choice but to follow, if they need to hold down the job. Employers often have policies that address work-life balance issues for their workforce, but things only seem to get worse, thanks to technology that can track you down even in the midst of a weekend or a holiday. Torn between holding down a job and keeping the house, it is not unusual to find that one parent has to step down the corporate ladder in order to look after the kids. This makes it easier for the other parent to attend to their professional commitments  without guilt.  But, somewhere in the process, relationships are already bearing the strain.

In today’s context, the working professional has very little time to spare for the family, or even themselves! The family dinner has fast disappeared. There may be exceptions, but these are my general observations. Families who sit at the dinner table together are a rarity. Even when they do, it wouldn’t be unusual to find every member of the family busy on their smartphones – answering emails, updating statuses, and playing online games! And that tells us a lot. Let alone knowing the neighbour, parents no longer know their children and vice versa. 

A quiet dinner with everyone busy on a smartphone, followed by everyone quietly sneaking into their own rooms, to watch their favourite shows, alone and undisturbed by the rest of the family! Kids are obsessed with computer games, watching their favourite shows at a time when they need to be playing outside, and running around and breathing fresh air. Where has life come to? Is this the life that we really wanted when we were growing up?

If we are so focused on technology in the here and now, we are actually missing out on interacting with real people, face to face and responding with real emotions, not just a ‘like’ button on social networking sites. I am quite certain that over the next few decades all we will be left with, are a technology-obsessed generation, who will shudder at the thought of having a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation leaving them feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. We may not like to admit, but sadly, that’s where we are all headed for, for better or for worse, as one would choose to think.

In these times, when technology helps us to stay connected 24/7 to everyone across the world in different time zones, in a rather continuous way, we are still hungry to hook up and stay connected with everyone whilst being alienated from those who matter the most. Often we hear of parents being unaware of who their children are meeting online, or why grades have been suddenly falling or the reasons for their children going into depression which in some extreme cases also end in suicide.

The likely vision for the future is that of many isolated people, living independently, lacking communication, and perhaps eventually, the end of relationships as we know them. What if calling or texting or emailing were no longer options? What if face-to-face or a letter via snail mail were the only ways to communicate? After many decades of relying on modern technology, what if it disappeared? Why has modern technology made us so dependent, that people have become addicted and willing to do almost anything to get online?

Perhaps, after all, there is merit in the argument that technology has indeed become our next big addiction issue. The angst of withdrawals from technology is forcing people to do desperate things. And it is not just those who work and use technology who are alienating themselves. When we spend extended time pouring over what others are doing and saying, it draws our attention to all the things we don’t have or are missing out on and cause us to question why our lives don’t look the same. Our unhappiness causes us untold sorrow and is also instrumental in leading us to ignore those who are the closest to us.

At this point, the moot question to ask oneself is – “Is there something more worthwhile that I could be spending my time on?”

And most of the time, the answer is an emphatic YES!