Technology – the great saviour! Technology – the evil depressor!
Technology has blossomed the most in the last decade or so. Websites and social networks have mushroomed. The amount of devices one has to interact with virtually anyone on the internet has skyrocketed. So much so that a working internet connection has become a necessity in many a household. No business nowadays can be imagined without the huge fiber-optic cables laid down under sea across the world, and without the satellites that encircle the earth. The dream of the entire world being a global village has finally been realised. But technology has also brought upon us a curse. Two actually – the multitude of devices and the multitude of options.
The multitude of devices
Just think about it. I have a desktop computer that I first bought in 2001. Although it has been sliced-and-diced multiple times in the intervening years, I have added and removed components in it so many times that now it hardly sports anything that was bought thirteen years ago, it has remained a steady presence in my room ever since. It was the most substantial technology investment that my parents had made at that time, and all I had used it was to play Road Rash in it on Windows ME.
Still, the desktop lingered and I did many great things with it (finding out mom’s long lost friend after nearly three decades was also a part of it, and that was before facebook had happened!). I spent hours upon hours staring at its screen during my school and college days – learning programming languages, discovering the joys of wikipedia and blogger and yahoo and google, freewriting whenever I felt like it, watching countless movies and TV shows and what not, tinkering with images with photoshop, experimenting with different flavours of Linux… You get the drift.
Over the past few years though, I have been plagued with a multitude of devices, all intent on accomplishing the same thing over and over again, and using different paradigms every time.
Two years ago I bought a laptop. And.. Things changed since then. Now that my desktop wasn’t my sole window to the world, it’s role started to diminish. Now I didn’t use the desktop for photoshop for example, because the laptop had an HD-ready screen and a dedicated graphics processor. Programming was a different ball game on a laptop though, so that stayed with the familiar desktop. Also, at that time my laptop’s graphics processor wasn’t properly supported by the Linux platforms, so my FOSS experiments stayed with the desktop too.
I had felt constrained by the limited resolution that my desktop’s monitor offered (1024×768, imagine!), so I bought a full-HD monitor for my desktop in March last year. God was I happy! I could finally watch HD movies on my system, and using Visual Studio / Photoshop was a delight with all the extra screen real-estate I now had. On a whim I installed some games too. I’m not really a hard core gamer, but I enjoy killing some enemy soldiers on screen every now and then. But then something else happened. Another device entered the ecosystem.
A Smart TV. This had built-in WiFi, could be controlled with a mobile device, supported DLNA, and was accompanied with a state-of-the-art Yamaha home theater system. For obvious reasons watching movies on the desktop was now out. I could just stream it onto the TV and enjoy the more immersive experience. During this time I also realised that I no longer enjoyed typing out long passages (blog posts, for example) on the desktop. The laptop was more convenient, and more intimate. I could even use it in pitch darkness – a setting that I happen to like. The desktop was reduced to a mere downloading machine by then… neglected in a corner but switched on 24×7 to download new TV episodes and movies in full-HD quality.
As luck would have it, during August my company gifted me another device – a Micromax FunBook. It was my first experience with Android, so naturally I was excited. I loaded it with apps of all shapes and sizes. Being a low-end device it wasn’t able to bear the load of many of them, yet I liked to use it. In the end it served as a Kindle for me more than anything else, and I managed to read a number of volumes on it, including a translation of the great Indian epic Mahabharata and Gregory David Roberts’s magnum opus Shantaram. But my zeal to acquire more devices wasn’t over as yet.
Next up was Google’s flagship smartphone – Nexus 5. It got delivered right on time, on my birthday itself! And I spent the night cutting up my SIM card to perfection, applying the screen guard and loading it up with numerous apps. What did I use it for? Phone? yes. Whatsapp? yes. Facebook? yes. Kindle? yes. Flipboard? yes. RSS? yes. Music? yes. Podcasts? yes. Youtube? yes. In short, it was the perfect convergence device that I was looking for. The silver bullet. Same thing for everything.
You must be wondering that I must have stopped after that, no? After all, what more I could want? Sorry to disappoint you, because two days ago I bought another device.
A second generation Kindle Paperwhite. Why? Because I couldn’t stand the glare while reading ebooks on my tablet and phone. I like it too. I’ve already read The Secret of the Nagas on it and it feels exactly right. Feels like paper, visible in the darkest of room and in the brightest of sunlight, and sturdy. I can see myself reading books upon book on this thing and not grow tired of it. It really is an amazing device.
But even after owning so many great devices all at once, I feel empty… constricted… tied. I feel like this -
Yes, the above picture talks about charging devices, but I feel like a slave of them on a more fundamental level. I feel confused… with so many devices around, which one to use when? Should I read this blog on my laptop, or is my phone more suited for it? Should I post this facebook update from my desktop, or tablet? Does Reddit look better on its android tablet app, or should I prefer chrome on my laptop? First world problems, anyone?
The multitude of options
Having all these devices vying for my attentions has another side effect, as I’ve realised. I’ve become more of a consumer than a producer. When I just had my desktop, I’d used it to build stuff. I loved to create wallpapers and web layouts on Photoshop. I loved to write. Once I created a WordPress theme from scratch, and another time using the underscores framework. I even tried to create my own CMS in PHP, and succeeded to a large extent too! I used to tinker with Linux so much that once I had three flavors installed on my PC, along with Windows! Back in school I had famously completed two years’ worth of my Computer Science syllabus in mere three months, and had managed to top every single exam they could throw at me. During my BSc years I learned so much about Web Design and Development that I still draw upon that knowledge – nearly five years later! But now I do nothing of that sort whatsoever.
Earlier when I planned to do something, I usually got it done to perfection. Even the things that I couldn’t make wasn’t due to lack of trying. I tried and failed, and felt good about it later. I used to do just one thing at once, and whatever I did, it took me forward, somewhat.
Now what? Now I am a chronic planner, and nothing else. So much so that whatever I plan on doing it never gets done. I had planned to write a short story sometime back. I have it all in my head. But I can’t bring myself to actually writing it. I had planned to make a really nice app for my own use. I have everything needed to make it all written down, and even got the development environment put together. But I can’t bring myself to actually code the damn thing. I had planned to refurbish my homepage… that thing has been on the internet for nearly three years. I have the new design all mocked up. But I can’t bring myself to actually open Photoshop and layer it out. Only recently, I conspired with a friend to write a novel. Yes, an actual novel. I have the story all figured out. But I can’t seem to bring myself to start writing. All this because of too less time on my hands, but mostly because of too many distractions that I suffer from. There’s simply so much to do!
What should I do on the two days of week that I get off? Write a blog post? Read one of the numerous unread books? Catch up with housework? Go out with friends? Plan the next scene? Do some coding for pleasure? Watch a movie? Listen to an audio book? Go for a walk? Organise my stuff? Daydream?
I have so many unread books lying around that these days I’m even reading multiple of those at once. I read a paperback on my way to office, and an ebook on my way back home. Nowadays I’ve even started the Harry Potter series on audio, and with the new Kindle I’m on my third book of the Shiva Trilogy. I watch two movies during a weekend, but download a lot more during the rest of the week, because you know, my TV is awesome.
And all this social sharing that has become the part-and-parcel of modern life is driving me crazy! You go somewhere? You post it on facebook. You read a book? You update goodreads. You bought something online? You rate it on the website and cross-post it on twitter. You listened to a song? You scrobble it on last.fm. As if the locus of your own life has been externalized. You live for others, not for yourself. And you try hard to keep up appearances. It’s all very depressing.
Where does it all stop? In order to cure distractions, the powers-that-be came up with more applications – that of the distraction-free variety. So my phone has a distraction-free note-taking app. My PC has a distraction-free text editor. Even WordPress, the software on which this blog runs, has a distraction-free mode of its admin backend. Does that help? Somewhat. Of course, getting rid of all distractions would be akin to going back to the first principles. Not using any of the devices. Not heeding to any of the beeps. But for a citizen of the internet like me, it all seems much too harsh, no?
I’ll just need to live with it.