Thursday, 17 August 2017

Metro Musings.

Has our addiction to smartphones made us de facto less empathetic beings?

Today I was travelling on the Delhi Metro, glued to my phone screen (frantically trying to learn a foreign language via my phone, because apparently you can do that these days), while simultaneously listening to music to drown out the excess chatter in the coach. The doors of the metro compartment opened at Patel Chowk and a visually handicapped man was helped into the coach, and seated in a spot across from me (after a lady got up to make space). I lost out the opportunity to offer my seat because by the time I sensed, from the periphery of my vision, that something was happening, and by the time I actually looked up from my phone, the gentleman was already seated.

A short while later, as I waited for the elevator at the underground metro station that fortunately opens almost right into my office building, I was steadfastly looking at my phone again (in an attempt to finish one more module of the aforementioned foreign language). As the doors of the elevator opened to deposit passengers from the overground, I failed to notice that amidst them was a handicapped man who was incapable of walking - he was sitting and dragging his body across the floor of the elevator, as he attempted to exit. Another person waiting for the lift - a middle-aged gentleman who was not glued to his phone - saw this and was cognizant enough to hold the doors of the elevator manually, to aide the disabled man's exit.

We like to multi-task and accomplish more than one thing at once (and this may be a good value to strive for: efficiency). But is this at the cost of becoming oblivious to things and people around us, which/who may require our attention as part of our obligations to being members of society?
And how much is technology to blame? I could just have been as engrossed in a book. Or sleeping. (But eight out of ten people on the metro will be found to have their phones in their hand.)

Has technology altered the way we choose to act in society? We could be surrounded by a mass of humans, squished up head-to-armpit in a metro compartment, but to seek a human connection, we will most likely still be endeavouring to balance our phone in our hands in a crowded compartment, to be able to connect virtually with somebody not present in that compartment.

Conversely: have we reached a stage where, to be sitting in a crowded place full of strangers, there may be some stigma attached to not be looking into our phone? Because we want to belie assumptions about us: assumptions that perhaps we are lonely, conclusions that are reached when we are seen without our friends at our fingertips in any given setting. Because to gaze around and make eye contact with a total stranger would be an undesirable outcome when in possession of a phone.

Chin up. Empathize.

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