By Poulomi Das
A few weeks ago, a journalist covering the Jaipur Literature Festivaltweeted out British-American essayist Pico Iyer’s social media habits. The tweet gleaned that Iyer didn’t use a cell phone and got hours of clear reading time every day, which no doubt bolstered his creative process. But the part that had me in rapt attention was the fact that Iyer chose to not look at his emails after 6 pm. The tweet was instantly met with fervid likes and retweets, including mine. Like most of the respondents to the tweet, even I concluded that Iyer was quite spot on about the urgent need to switch off in this hectic age of 24/7 availability.
Inspired, I, decided to follow suit. On a Tuesday afternoon at work, surrounded by colleagues furiously typing away at their keyboards and multiple WhatsApp work groups buzzing, I switched my push notifications off. I might have resisted the urge to yell “I feel on top of the world” at that momentous occasion, but who could stop me from feeling so?
Unfortunately, for me, my entrance to the la-la land of creativity sans constant noise lasted the entirety of five minutes. Guilt-induced anxiety paralysed me a minute after I chose to show a middle finger to following the herd. My mind, that was supposed to be a safe haven brimming with ideas after being gifted time, silence, and space, was instead freaking out about missing something important. It could be anything, my mind warned me: an email, an update, or a text from my boss enquiring about my story. Worried sick, I closed the tab with the Iyer tweet, and switched my notifications back on.
There’s a special kind of anxiety that trumps the one everyone encounters when our notifications display 8302 missed calls from our mothers. It’s the kind where our email inboxes and smartphones are overtaken by 472o593 frantic notifications from work, that lie neglected.
Our all-round availability has brought about a domino effect that has expedited lower attention spans and an overall neglect of mental health.
This bespoke anxiety also manages to sneak up every time we channel Khatron Ke Khiladiand dare to distance our eyes and ears from the constant alerts of numerous WhatsApp work groups on any given weekend. In this era of technological inebriation that advertises and prides itself on “always being on”, this brand of anxiety – a much more stressful bout of the frivolous FOMO – has become as commonplace as deep-rooted. “Work never ends” is now no longer just a whiny complaint, it has instead unknowingly taken the mantle of an anthem; it has become a way of life.
This culture of 24/7 availability isn’t just limited to our overtly exacting work lives: It is reflected in our binge marathons, the bane of read receipts, and the constant curation of our social media lives. The pressure to be readily available to react, outrage, converse, or sympathise has become so all-consuming, it ensures that it is impossible to compartmentalise our lives into neat boxes any longer. We are expected to be equipped to cater to a work emergency with the same urgency as a personal emergency, and in most cases, simultaneously at the same time.
Our compliance in being held hostage 24/7 is unlike anything our parents have ever seen or experienced. For them, the disconnect button was activated at 5 pm every day. Then, ambition or success weren’t measured by the time you took to reply to texts, the time you spent sitting on your asses inside an air-conditioned office, or staring at your refreshed Instagram feed. But for us, being connected every waking hour of our lives is the only way we know how to function.
Naturally, our all-round availability has brought about a domino effect that has expedited lower attention spans, frequent burnouts at workplaces, and an overall neglect of mental health. At the same time, we treat switching off with absolute reverence. Suddenly, the very generation that would probably hold a Guinness World Record for most number of years gone without switching off their damn phones, desperately wants to press the switch off button from the world.
Granted, that it is a much-needed detox that we need. Endless self-help guides, thinkpieces, and personal endorsements yammer on about it. But it’s also a luxury that very few of us canafford. Ironically, this is the warning that most #Disconnect2k18 sermons come without.
“Work never ends” is now no longer just a whiny complaint, it has instead unknowingly taken the mantle of an anthem; it has become a way of life.
The luxury of disconnecting from the world around us without worrying about its consequences is a gift that’s handed over to a select number of people – ones who have probably done their fair share of being available at ungodly of hours for years before getting to a place of enlightenment. Craving the luxury of non-availability at a time when we make a living in crowded cities where the currency is round-the-clock availability, is like yearning for an appraisal after spending five hours at your new job.
The most amusing part of our fight for this luxury is the cruel little fact that in all probability, most of us don’t even have an inkling of what completely switching off actually means. For me, it means, having the time to waste my whole day staring at Instagram stories; for my friend, it means watching Bojack Horseman until his eyes pop out. We’ll always find a way to ensure our minds are never at rest, regardless of our level of connectivity.
That fateful Tuesday, shortly after I completed my walk of shame and switched my notifications back on, I learnt two things: Switching off doesn’t always have something to do with push notifications. And that Pico Iyer is indeed #goals – worthy of aspiring to, but rarely achievable.
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