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HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014
Why keeping up with pop culture isn't a great thing
Ashish Shakya, Hindustan Times
August 01, 2014
First Published: 17:51 IST(1/8/2014)
Last Updated: 19:31 IST(2/8/2014)

“I cried because my 3G was down, until I met a man who had no smartphone.” – Rumi

The Internet is arguably the greatest invention of the 21st century, second only to the polio vaccine and the cyborg that assumed the form of Mick Jagger years ago. Like the best drugs, it offers escape in enslavement and we’re happy to roll up our sleeves for the friendly neighbourhood WiFi dealer.

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While we’re devouring our way out of a pop-culture pile the size of Texas, we’re also taking in other vital information, like FB updates on the bowel movements of a guy you once met at a party in 2008, a carnival of countless GIFs, memes, listicles, must-watch videos, Twitter controversies, wardrobe malfunctions, social media gossip, longform pieces and impotent outrage.

They’re all tugging at your sleeve, begging you to watch their latest trick, until you give in, putting aside that presentation, letting go of the steering wheel, leaving your patient half cut on the operating table, and you sense your brain leaking out of your ears, holding up a white flag.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/7/0308brunchpg10b.jpgThe most recent brain-stomp happened a few weeks ago, courtesy Poonam Pandey, Queen of The Will-She-Won’t-She Clan (Spoiler Alert: She won’t.) This is a woman whose career is based on the fact that men like adipose tissue.

The World Cup was on at the time, prompting a brainwave that was both hilarious and tragic. Around the quarter-final stage, she announced that if Brazil won, she’d give away her bra to one lucky fan. Prospective serial killers only had to tweet answers to the awfully worded #WhyIWantBRAOfPoonamPandey to win. As expected, it was a classy affair:
Poonam ran this contest only because – and I wish I were making this up – the word ‘Brazil’ contains the word ‘bra’. I don’t know what she would’ve offered if the Virgin Islands had qualified.

This Twitter contest wasn’t something that I, or anyone else, needed to know about. I couldn’t have avoided it either, because it was right there all day, being shared and retweeted, albeit ironically. To be honest, a part of me wanted to know, because judging people is extremely therapeutic.

The inability to cut off from such noise is one of the symptoms of a form of social anxiety called FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). That’s just the informal name – the scientific term is: HAHA YOU’LL NEVER BE SANE AGAIN.

This fear is compounded by the possibility, no, certainty, that everyone you know is doing better than you. You know this because you’ve seen status updates of them sitting in castles, wallowing in cake, while you’re out on the streets, fighting stray dogs for a slice of bread so you can start a food blog about it.

A great side-effect of this is an actual, physical sense of discomfort when you’re separated from your phone. I’m not saying I’m obsessed, but if my building was on fire and I had to choose between saving my phone and a newborn baby, I would, without doubt, pick up the baby to check if my phone was underneath it.

Now I’m not a “trained psychologist”, but I did watch an episode of House where he pretended to be one, so I feel qualified to say this: FOMO is just Insecurity 2.0. We all want to sit at the cool kids’ table, and be told that yes, we belong, except that the location of the table changes everytime you look away.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. This was first put forth by a social scientist at Oxford called Dr Andrew Przybylski, who apparently spends his free time hating vowels. According to Przybylski’s survey, the Fear Of Missing Out was strongest in people whose basic psychological needs, like love and respect, were unfulfilled.

Of all the networks out there, Facebook has to be the biggest source of overload. It’s like a party that started off as fun, but now you just want to get hold of your friends and leave, because random strangers have started making small talk about their “opinions” and “feelings”, all of which are stupid. Seriously, this is my default reaction while scrolling through my news feed:
“Don’t care.”
“Don’t care.”
“Don’t care.”
“Don’t care.”
“Holy crap, you got fat.”
“Don’t care.”
“Ooh, who’s that hottie? Oh wait, double-barrel surname. Never mind.”
“Don’t care.”
“Don’t care.”
“Die.”

Instagram’s better, because you get to jazz up your neediness with pretty filters. Meanwhile, Twitter is a completely different beast. Sure, it’s great for when you want to overthrow oppressive regimes so as to make way for more oppressive regimes. But it has also destroyed productivity the way Hitler destroyed the hopes of anyone wanting to sport a cool half-moustache.

I’m just glad social media wasn’t around during the Mughal era, because then the Taj Mahal would never have been built. Also, it would’ve made for an awkward deathbed scene.

I could run down our obsession with sharing all I want, but the truth is that as a modern-day writer, my career relies on distracting you better and for longer than anyone else. In fact, I wanted to call this piece ‘Exclusive Katrina Kaif Bikini Shots Reveal Birthmark Shaped Like Ranbir’, just so it would stick in your goldfish brain.

I cannot lie, I want you to tweet and Facebook and Reddit and Snapchat this piece to everyone you’ve ever known. Do it before the next distraction comes along. Seriously, hurry. Poonam Pandey just started unbuttoning her top.

Ashish Shakya is a writer, stand-up comedian and one-fourth of the comedy collective AIB. He lives in Bombay and is in a committed relationship with his smartphone

From HT Brunch, August 3
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