As a student of English literature, I had once asked my teacher: "What makes a piece of writing literature?" So much is being written all the time in today's world that it has always been difficult for me to separate grain from chaff. "Your work should be timeless, while speaking of the times you have lived in," she had said. Her reply stuck in my head. I left college that day thinking about what it was that was peculiar about my age.
That afternoon, I entered my home to find both my siblings glued to screens - my brother, who was in his early teens, in front of the television, and my sister, three years his senior, staring at the computer. She was in a candid chat with one of her Facebook "friends", whom she wouldn't bother to even greet in real life. And my brother was catching one of those cricket match reruns on a channel that shows the game 24x7. I saw his lunch served in front of him, cold and abandoned.
While eating, I'd asked him about the cricket match he was to play that evening with the neighbourhood boys. "I am not going," he said, "I have an examination tomorrow. No time." I didn't bother arguing with him, in spite of knowing well that he would spend another three good hours sitting before television, in the same position.
Post dinner, after sharing a funny anecdote with my sister, I found she was busy fiddling with her mobile phone all this while. Realising that she was not with me, even though sitting only 10 inches away, I stopped talking and gave her a hard look. She was grinning at her mobile screen. Out of boredom, I also checked my cell to see if a bomb had exploded somewhere. Ten minutes on, she returned to life, gave me that "I just remembered where I saw you last" look and said: "So, you were saying something?"
They are not the only teenagers besotted with the blessings of the modern age. This love for machines has taken over young lives so much that it has become almost a reflex for them to check out WhatsApp first thing in the morning. They have long lost the count of the hours they spend staring at screens, of all sorts.
This transition seems to have happened overnight, in one cold blow. We almost didn't notice the great change that turned our young people incapable of having real conversation with real people in real space. I do not claim that I do not use technology; I do, but I have escaped its full onslaught narrowly by being born just a few years before "it" happened. Just by a few years.
That day, I realised I am product of a virtual age, and if I ever get down to writing a book, I will have to make my characters chat and not talk. The thought had disturbed me then, and it does even now. firstname.lastname@example.org
(Sneha Bengani is an HT trainee journalist)