The death of Asim Bashir while playing PUPG, was widely circulated as well as condoled on social media. This incident is not an isolated happening. In the recent past we have come across several such disturbing news items: another 11th class student who died while playing PUBG, people who died while taking selfies, a UPSC aspirant who hid his smartphone in water bottle to cheat in the examination hall, etc. Incidents like these seem to be gradually getting normalizing in our society. The reason is obvious: smartphone (SP) addiction among the masses in general and the youth in particular. This nuisance is touching the sky under the disguise of progress and development or under the pretension of being a ‘necessary evil’. Now, it is easy to avoid or forget meals but it is hard to avoid scrolling through Facebook, playing PUBG and other games, texting on WhatsApp, uploading on Instagram, unnecessarily checking mails, etc. Through selfies people now tend to capture every moment such as attending a funeral, donating blood, serving a glass of water to mom, and donating to the needy. We are so much involved in the social media that our Facebook friends seem to “know” us more than our parents and even spouses. The notification bar almost always spins in our mind. We are stuck to SPs in buses and on beds, in washrooms and at junctions; even classrooms and libraries have been invaded. In actual practice, the virtual world has made us unsocial in our dealings. It is imperative to identify this nuisance and seek remedies to address it before it is too late.
The development of video games may arguably be regarded as the dominant factor in the overuse of SPs. A decade back, during my teens, playing ‘snake game’ for half an hour or so on my sibling’s Nokia keypad mobile phone was enough to satiate my entertainment needs. Now my nephew, a kindergarten kid, plays car racing and role-playing games for hours. Any attempt to restrict his use of SP leads him to sneak to a Tablet. For teenagers, video games providing a never-ending fun are turning no less addictive than substance abuse. While one could expect certain sessions or levels in a game, the online multiplayer modes have stretched the gameplay time. The concept of ‘marginal utility’ may be applied to this addiction: a particular level cracked repeatedly produces less pleasure! Thus, each time a level is cracked, the victory over the next level seems just around the corner. The more challenging a game, the more excitement it triggers, and the more time it consumes. As a result, one often finds teenagers stuck to games rather than doing their homework or indulging in real social activities.
These games are designed to keep the users hooked. The feedback or rewards from a sound ‘ding’ or a ‘flash light’ to ‘chicken dinner’ in a game gives us a sense of accomplishment and victory. In ‘Candy Crush Saga’, the most popular game 3-4 years back, as the candies would disappear after being crushed by matching candies of same color, we would feel relaxed as if we had gulped down some natural juice. The more we gulped this ‘virtual juice’, the thirstier we would feel. Meanwhile, we were not obliged to pay any revenues to its developer as in peak days the game generated $600,000 revenue per day.
Similarly, the social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, etc. have not only bagged undue space in our lives but have also affected our psychology though the use of feedback in the form ‘like’, ‘comment’, ‘share’ and, now, ‘emotions’. A photo or status update with less number of ‘likes’ not only disturbs the user but he/she also takes it as a public condemnation. This force of ‘like’ machine forces us to expand our friend list, click the ‘like’ button on contradicting posts, and haggle ourselves in unnecessary debates. A good chunk of people even take assistance from certain software to satiate their appetite for ‘likes’.
The easy access to SPs and internet services at low prices are boosting this infection, and the ‘neighborhood effect’ is no less notable. The best example of this ‘neighborhood effect’ is the residential houses of tuition centers. The schooling and the couching classes hardy spare time to students to engage in sports or interact with the people around them in daytime. So the students switch to SP games and social networking at night to get rid of boredom, ending only with some more tediousness in their lives. The late-night excessive use of such gadgets has caused sleep deprivation. The myth that ‘the less you sleep, the more intelligent you are’ has proved dreadful. The anxiety, stress, depression and many other physical problems are its byproducts. The ‘quality sleep’ is a must to remember facts, understand problems, and to do creative activities but who gets a quality sleep after spending hours on mobile phones?
Internet has become a necessity now and it is neither possible nor wise to say ‘no’ to it. However, we need to set some limits. Steve Jobs, the developer of Apple Inc., did not introduce his children to tech gadgets till they were six. Yet, our children of the same age ‘invest’ enormous part of their lives on these gadgets. The need is to widen the world of these children by introducing them to the outdoor spaces like resorts and sports grounds unless these turn into battle grounds in this conflict zone. The parents need to be mindful while themselves using these gadgets in front of their children. We should also encourage children to avoid e-learning when there is an alternative. Most of the times, the ‘old-fashioned’ classroom is better than YouTube lecture, so is a newspaper than an online portal. As the mere existence of SPs is disruptive when they are not in active use, clocks are the best option for time update and setting alarms.
Technology has its pros and cons. How it turns out for us is for us to decide. Certainly, its overuse has turned us oblivious to the actual world surrounding us and ignorant of the light deep in us. To balance these is a mission in itself and to embark on this mission is the need of the hour. Let’s take this sad death of Asim as an alarm to shrug our shoulders and rub eyes to strive for a healthy, progressive and harmonious life.
Basharat Hasan is a Research Fellow at the Department of History, AMU.