I read a sweet story on WhatsApp. It was about a young man who accompanied his uncle to a bank. The young man suggested that his uncle use internet banking, instead of waiting at the counter and wasting an hour of his day. He offered to teach his uncle to shop and pay bills, all the while sitting in the comfort of his home.
“Does it mean that I would never really need to step out of my home again?” asked the uncle. The nephew nodded excitedly. And then the uncle said, “Since I entered this bank, I have met four of my friends. The staff know me and I talk to them often. My children do visit me now and then, but for most of my time, I am lonely. And this is the kind of company I need. When I fell ill two years ago, the butcher from whom I buy meat visited me, sat by my bedside and cheered me up. There is a man who comes by and pays my bills for me at a nominal charge. It is his only source of income and keeps him busy in his retired life. The local grocer once saw my wife fall while on a walk and rushed her back to our home. Would I have that human touch if I did everything online?”
I know many people over the age of 30 who would relate to this story and value the emotions attached to it. That is because they connect to it.
The fact is that most wives today no longer sit at home, cook and wait for their husbands to return. She is at workplace earning her money and her stripes. She would rather spend her free time with her husband, kids and friends than at a supermarket or a bank. It is often said that ‘out of sight’ is ‘out of mind’; technology empowers you to be together even when you are apart.
Lifestyles have changed. There is ‘time pressure’ and ‘performance pressure’ from the moment children enter secondary school. They do not have time to “hang out endlessly” like we did. Aalia, my 17-year-old daughter, does not want to meet or chat for hours with her loved one daily. She feels that, after spending hours in school together, a WhatsApp relationship is just fine. She likes to keep her relationship connected, yet simple and “non-needy”.
We may feel that this generation is missing out on the warmth and joy of face-to-face human interaction. But then, we are judging them by our days, when lifestyles and relationships were different. For them, face-to-face and FaceTime are the same thing. It feels the same. And nothing is better or worse.
I understand the wariness of moving into an era that is unfamiliar to us. But we have to start viewing it as what works best in today’s times and makes people happy. The generation of today wants it all―work, fun, success, hobbies, socialising, a safe and secure family life, travel, sport and love, though not necessarily in that order. Technology enables all of it to seamlessly integrate.
I think technology enhances and even betters what human connection does. Take the matrimonial and dating sites, for instance. Would you settle for someone your parents picked for you out of 20 choices, because they “knew the family”, or would you go for someone whom you narrowed down from thousands of people on the internet?
Indians are proficient at holding on to the notions of culture and values. Every generation feels something is “slipping away” and that the new generation is losing touch with what “really matters”. They bemoaned that about inter-caste, inter-religious and love marriages. But these are the life choices that work for our generation today.
We are human beings. Spending time together, laughing, romancing, holding hands, cuddling and having sex will never go out of fashion or out of our lives. All of technology has two important commands: ‘enable’ and ‘disable’. Let the former command work for you, and may you have the common sense to draw the line when it is disabling you.