Screen presence

It was a Saturday afternoon and my daughter came back from school around 2 pm. I had the opportunity to open the door for her. Knowing that she has reached (thanks to technology) I played some of my favourite songs. While she entered she heard the song and asked me if I was watching a movie. I told her no and that I have left the control to the YouTube recommendation engine and it is in charge of the playlist. It was time for her to leave for her tuition after a quick meal and by then YouTube had played some good songs for us. Before she left, she made a comment ” what kind of recommendation is YouTube giving? The last couple of songs have been very sad”? I admitted and ask her to take control and do the needful. She was happy with what she got from the big screen and she finished her meals and went for her tuition.

I used to get fascinated with the recommendations I get on YouTube and OTT. Last week my wife and I watched a movie. We finished watching the movie and my wife asked, ” How did we land ourselves here-watching this movie “? I told her it was recommended by the OTT platform. We wondered later what was the movie list we had in mind to see on that day. So I decided to track and trace things. I have noticed and observed that we have been leaving control and agency to the screen to decide what we should watch and do.

Every Sunday morning during my morning walk, I get a message on my screen about the usage. I have hardly taken it seriously. Having read ” Art of Mindfulness” partly I came across this insight which I am sharing here. That made me sit up and take notice. We look at restricting screen time the way we look at restricting calories – an act of self deprivation. Trying to restrict screen time requires us to constantly exert willpower against our desire to pick up our phones and check in on the things we care about and worry about. Exerting willpower is already hard but it becomes harder when we are fixating on a negative rule that deprives us. Trying to not use your phone is like trying to not think of an elephant. The more you think about NOT doing something, the harder it becomes to NOT do it.

This has happened to me several times, particularly during my travels. I will click for current affairs and I would have gone down the rabbit hole opening a plethora of windows. In fact, one of the observations my wife makes when she sees my screens ( Laptops to Mobile) is how many windows I have opened and kept. I had to do some explanation and quote anecdotally how she is very good at multitasking. That day I was driving and the task was cut out for us. We had to reach home before our younger daughter reached home. My wife first checked her current bus location, we then ordered some food through our favourite app, and in the background, we had put navigation for the best route. She was juggling all three: The best traffic-free route, Tracking our daughter’s arrival, and tracking the food delivery.

I knew I will be late. I got into the cab and the first thing he asked me is ” where do you want to go”. I gave him the 4-digit code and asked him to key in the number. He again asked, Is it this street? I said “Yes”. During the journey, he hardly looked at the map. I was constantly checking him and judging him. I was quite sure that I will be late anyway so for a moment delved into some reading. But my eyes kept checking my screen where in I had put the destination. There was one cross where the map indicated to go left and the driver was repeatedly convincing me to take the right. He also showed that his map is stuck and is not refreshing. Noticing the elderly man behind the wheel I tried to convince him that the map is showing left. He kept his foot on the accelerator and convinced me by saying, ” I have 37 years of driving experience and I cannot be wrong”. I did not utter a word and I was only waiting to see how much I will be delayed for the meeting. In a moment of surprise, he dropped me in front of that place much before the time the map had indicated sticking all the lane rules. I was gobsmacked and in a moment of extreme delight apologised to him and gave him a good tip. I thanked him and he in turn told me, ” If we had followed the maps we would have been going around and around”. The tone with which he spoke made me recollect what I had read about London car drivers. They have to memorise an incredible 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. Passing the exam requires 34 months of preparation. Their message was, “Go with your first instincts, that’s the way The Knowledge works“.

“London Taxi drivers have to pass the Knowledge test”

Technology and society are co-related and co-dependent, and end up co-influencing each other. Downtime for telecom and cyber networks will have a big impact on humanity in a connected world. Tech is getting wrapped up around everyday living. Be it the recommendation engine on YouTube, the OTT platform, or google maps. Our dependence on these is very high and as we go along this path and we get stuck and if we are lucky we will get someone who will take us away from our screen and show us his presence of mind. I believe technology has a great role in shaping our future and it will continue to do so. As we immerse ourselves in our day-to-day “screen presence” and “Multitask” we can run into people who will impress us with their knowledge. That is the time we can ” Hit refresh” and get a sense of this important insight: Are we mindful of our screen presence?

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