Mobiles and cheap data have had a massive impact on how people relate and talk to each other. With everyone on their mobiles, the way people use public spaces has changed so much in the last decade or so. Now, there is hardly anyone in public transport without a mobile in their hand, and the screen along with the almost mandatory earphones. It offers such an easy and convenient way to create a boundary around oneself, and hold off uninvited contact much more effectively than a newspaper or a book ever did.
There is something about being on the phone which seems to send out a universal “Do not disturb” message that everyone reads loud and clear, and it is only in times of true exasperation or emergency that one steps over that boundary and says, “Excuse me! Can you look at me for one moment? I am trying to get your attention!” but even that would be only with someone one knows well or the perfect stranger who is blocking your access, and even then, it is only a quick interruption – not a real request to put the phone down and interact.
Check in with yourself: How easy is it for you to bring yourself to interrupt somebody when they are on their phone? I would bet it is really difficult. You probably try to see what they are busy with. Are they playing a game? Watching a movie? Reading something? Chatting with someone? Talking to someone? On a video call? The order of these come with an increasing level of difficulty in disturbing the person. Somehow, we seem to hold back a lot more when we see a person on their mobile, and it is not just difficult with, say, a stranger on the metro but also with people in your own life, no matter how close the relationship. I would even argue that it is probably much harder to interrupt your partner than it is to interrupt a stranger.
What is it about being on a phone that makes people stay back a little?
Considering that mobile phones and data were barely around even ten years ago, the respect and space we accord to someone on their phone might just be the assumption that perhaps they are actually busy with something specific and important, some urgent matter that is more significant than us. But, we are quite aware, given our own mobile usage, that much of it is just passing time, right? Shouldn’t that make it easier for us to interrupt and demand attention? Yet, we typically don’t.
For people in relationships, this becomes quite the bother. People are on their phones a lot more, and since we are somehow programmed to back off and wait, till we just cannot wait any longer, it is creating a lot more distance between people. It is decreasing possibilities of spontaneous and real-time connections.
We are waiting a lot more to reach each other, and that is not great news for love.
As written for The New Indian Express
Smart phones are so ubiquitous. People use their laptops and personal computers only when they need to really type out large pieces, or work on multiple documents or when they have to work on software that is only designed for such computers. All other connected life is on the phone now that phones operate with equal or greater computing power as compared to computers, and there is internet everywhere. Very few actually use their computers to access social media, dating sites, news or anything else that one gets around to on a daily basis, unless they are on some kind of digital detox and are limiting their access to their mobile phones.
More and more smart phones these days come with fingerprint and face scanners that can unlock the phone. Gone are the days when the only option was a complex pattern or a numerical pattern were the ways to lock a phone, now it is your own face or finger that does the job. Most people set the unlocking pattern to their thumbs or index fingers, and sometimes, just for convenience, store all their fingers as unlocking patterns on their phone. It makes sense if you think about it – what if a couple of fingers get hurt and are damaged, or in full masala movie style, you are in trouble and only your little finger can reach the phone!
Jokes aside, smart phones and their being locked or unlocked is often a sticky issue with people in relationships. It is much more common to find people insisting that they have access to each other’s phones rather than have people who are quite OK that phones are each other’s private spaces and do not need to be accessed. Many take the half-way path where they ask for and get access (“just for emergency sakes”) and give the same open-door policy to their partners. The rare person uses their partner’s finger to unlock their phone when the partner is deep asleep or not in a conscious state, adds their own into the security system, just so that they will have access should there be need to have such access at all, and maybe not let the partner know at all because they want to avoid arguing over something that might never really happen.
How people in relationship access each other’s smart phones then becomes quite an important issue for many people in relationships. They want to be able to see each other’s WhatsApp conversations, messenger history, browsing history and everything else. With people taking their phones to their toilets and glued on to the small screen, with wireless ear-phones on almost all the time, there is very little that others in the relationship get to know of one’s lives unless there is an open sharing.
Issues of consent, transparency, connectedness and so on that have been the key concerns in relationships. More than rechecking your phone’s security protocols, people need to talk about these issues with their partners, or risk them playing out on a screen very near you.
How do you decide what shows to watch? Earlier, even with just the TV and all the cable channels, deciding what to watch with your beloved was not easy, unless you happened to luck out and both of you enjoyed the same things, and weren’t pretending through your courting period just to get each other’s attention.
Now with all the streaming apps offering shared subscriptions and “Netflix and Chill” becoming part of our daily language, there are thousands of hours of programming, season after season of shows from every corner of the world right at your fingertips. All this content is available on every kind of screen now, from TV screens, to iPads, mobile phones and other stuff. There is apparently a fridge with a screen that can stream content. Coupled with the very best of headphones that cancel out noise, it is convenient for people to watch what they like, independent of each other.
If you are out sprawled on your couch watching Game Of Thrones and all its gore, your partner might be three feet away but watching old reruns of The Big Bang Theory and getting ready to mourn that it was ending as well. Of course, for the most part, your partner might be in another room altogether, and telling you to call when it is time for dinner.
It is becoming harder than ever to bond over your favourite shows. You really have to up sell the content you want to watch, or search for shows that appeal to both your tastes. You find that odd Korean drama that also features vampires, or the 90s documentary on serial killers and it somehow gets both of you piqued enough to share a few hours together as you binge watch it all in one night, and then you have to trawl all through the suggested links to find something else.
There are silver linings if you look for it. If you are an older couple, maybe you would rediscover some old favourites that you could both reconnect over. Maybe you’d watch Friends again, or older classics – re-watch the whole lot, and then watch the rebooted versions, admire the hotter, younger actors, the more polished production values and yet diss how the show has lost its earlier charm – think Star Trek. You might find yourself introducing each other to new content or find yourself bonding over content that neither knew you would like.
It is a toss-up, whether these unlimited choices will bring you together, or separate you from each other. There is no telling what it will do, unless you really think about this together. When we are free, it takes so much more effort to stay together.
As written for The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.