My young cousin is ecstatic about his new job. “They’re going to pay my mobile bills,” he says. Rather clever of them, I think. He can never be off his leash and set himself loose. He will always be one cell away from his boss.
Most of the time, of course, it will work the other way. He will be in constant touch with his friends. Every detail of their lives can be relayed to each other. Nothing need be kept for later, noted and saved for the time when they actually meet, face to face.
This idea, meeting face to face, threw up the quintessentially 21st century term: face time. Since multiplying the media through which we could communicate, we needed to invent a phrase for the old idea of sitting across a table, looking at a face, gathering all that data that one can’t, over email, froma textmessage or over the static of a conference call.
Perhaps face time works with business meetings. If X needs face time from Y and Y is willing to give it to X, perhaps they actually concentrate on the face time.
But social settings seem to have been rewritten entirely. You sit down to dinner with three friends. One of them spends all the evening interfacing with her keyboard. She has a new boyfriend, we are told, and so she must be excused as she texts him endlessly oremails him fromher Blackberry.
If it occurred to her, she would send him smoke rings from her cigarette too. Another friend takes calls. Is it an excuse that it’s work? It shouldn’t be. The company has bought some of his time, not all of it. And the more he takes those calls from the boss, the more often the boss will call.
You have to treat bosses in the way you would attack dogs: stay calm; do not show fear; do not make any suddenmoves; do not try to be friendly. The third friend takes calls, but only from clients. “They aremy bread and butter,”she says. I have to take their calls.
Actually, no one has to take anyone else’s call. You can simply call back later.You can turn your phone off. I am willing to bet that ninety-eight per cent of the calls made can wait. The problem is that the cell phonehas polarised the world.
There are the eternal optimists for whom the sunshines out of their little handsets.
Cell phone slaves
The next call will be from a headhunter, from Yashraj Films, from Infosys. There are the die-hard pessimists who believe that bad news is coming hurtling at them and any delay in taking those calls will result in the collapse of their personal worth, a divorce between Mummy-Papa, the breaching of the banks of the Brahmaputra or some such disaster.
In other words, everyone has become slaves to their mobiles.We have yet to learn how to put that imperious little gadget in its proper place. And until then, we risk destroying the face time we have for the possibilities behind the buzz.