By Alka Gurha
If you believe that the purpose of life is to be helpful and not happy, then you my friend, are the Saviour this Age of Apps has been waiting for. Today, the simple act of liking and hearting can lighten the burden of our friends and family. And it is impossible to be as generous as Rakhi Sawant is on Instagram, but you try.
Manifestations of help
To be a Good Samaritan is to be selfless – to look at your phone, just as your eyes open in the morning, much before you leave your bed. As you scroll down 20-odd WhatsApp groups and numerous Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook notifications, you notice that people everywhere are in need of help and attention. Especially your needy society WhatsApp group, Splendor ke Sitare. The woman in D208 pleads, “My maid hasn’t come today, my kid has a fever, and I just got a manicure done yesterday. Can someone please send their maid for the day?” Before you know it, your helping fingers begin typing “Don’t worry, I’m sending mine. Just don’t tell her how much you pay your help.”
Another neighbour writes, “Cat owners, where can I get a basket for my cat?” Naturally, this is more urgent than getting dressed for work, so you quickly share the pet shop address. You are driving and your society group pings again. It’s Mrs Kulkarni from the next wing. “My son is six and needs to do a ‘Wonders of Science’ project for school. SOS! Outta ideas!!” At the next red signal, you google and send her a few links. You are an hour late to work, but what could you really do given the circumstances? It may not seem like such a big deal because you are simply typing on your phone which is your default mode anyway, but multitasking is an art. Brushing and texting. Driving and WhatsApping. Eating and tying. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Being the helper
“Yes, yes, yes!” Well, no. That’s not true but I have to admit, many women said yes.
This barrage of Q&As and general information is a two-way street. Some days, you’re the saviour and on other days, someone comes to your rescue. “Avoid MG Road, it’s flooded.” “Go to *insert name* Mall today, there’s a 40 per cent off everywhere.” “There’s pest control happening in C block, close your windows.” And on it goes, because in this barter economy, people share everything they know. Sometimes life-saving information such as this Karva Chauth the chand won’t show up until 11 pm, so I suggest you watch it online. After all, what is really the purpose of a piece of information that is not broadcast?
Superheroes don’t get Sundays off. For instance, it’s the weekend and you’re surfing on your phone when someone in the family WhatsApp group urgently pings, “Suggest a doctor who is available on a Sunday. My kid shoved chickpeas up her nose.’” Even though you want to give the little brat a smack, you frantically post a call for help in every other group you’re part of. Suddenly, this is your emergency. Some share numbers of an emergency room, others suggest ways to spank the kid and force him to sneeze.
By the time you think it’s over, it’s already noon and you haven’t even finished watching the first episode of Maniac on Netflix. Now your friend pings. “We are planning a short getaway to Jim Corbett. Can you share the names of good hotels? Which route did you take?” All this information is a google search away, but maybe your friend didn’t hear of TripAdvisor. The kind soul that you are, you drop everything to share the minutiae of your trip, right down to your dinner menu.
Your fingers and your brain have become numb from all the pinging and advising and you decide to call it a day. But just before you shut your eyes, you end up looking at your phone – that one last time. And thank god for that! Suddenly the man in A208 asks for the nearest locksmith’s number after locking himself out, so how can you not help? By the time you hit the bed, the only consolation is that you have enough goodwill in your kitty. As for your task list for the day, that remains happily neglected.
You curse yourself and swear to stop being the WhatsApp Saviour. But somehow like every new year resolution this does not work. What is so enticing about giving and getting recommendations on social media? Whether it’s dispensing information about the best orthopaedic doctor, the happening Netflix show, or the most effective anti-frizz shampoo, why do we dip into and out of our phones to give advice until it hurts?
And where do we get off?
I suppose it’s because we are suckers for appreciation. In this urge to be connected at all times, also comes our desire to be thanked and wanted. And what better way for doing that than by compulsive benevolence? So we quickly channel our inner activists and trawl through every query. After all, charity begins on the phone.
Alka is a columnist and freelance writer.
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