What is the first thing that you do when the wheels of your plane touch down on the tarmac? Do you send up a silent prayer for having arrived safely at your destination? Do you hastily scramble around to collect your reading glasses, shawl, book, magazines or whatever detritus you have strewn around you? Do you rummage in your purse for a lipstick so that you can repair your face before facing the world? Or do you dig out your mobile phone/Blackberry and switch it on even before the seat belt sign is off?
I’m guessing most readers will be ticking the last option. Going by my own experience on flights this is what everyone does the moment the plane lands, defying the airline staff’s plaintive request that no one should switch on their mobile until the aircraft doors are open. So, even as you are taxiing down the runway, the air is abuzz with messages, emails, and phone calls coming through the ether.
Some are self-importantly scanning their Blackberries for all those crucial emails they missed while in transit. Others are calling their drivers to tell them to drive up to the exit gate so that they don’t have to wait even a couple of minutes for their cars. And then there are those inveterate social animals who can’t wait to get off the aircraft to firm up their dinner plans for the evening. But every single passenger is on his or her phone, checking smses, the list of missed calls, tapping out messages, scanning e-mails, or making phone calls.
What is so important that it can’t wait even for the five or ten minutes it takes to disembark from the aircraft? I am guessing here, but I wouldn’t mind betting that it’s nothing at all. It’s just that we have become so used to the idea of being plugged into things at all times that we begin to suffer withdrawal symptoms when we are out of touch with the world for the few hours we are in an aircraft. So like a junkie craving a quick fix of his drug of choice, we reach for our phones with a certain desperate urgency the moment we are on terra firma.
What did we miss, we wonder as we switch on our lifelines. Was the boss looking for me with an urgent message? Did the sentence on Ajmal Kasab come through while I was mid-air? Did the sales and marketing team manage to swing that new contract? Did some new controversy break out on Twitter? Did my daughter do well in her exam? Did the stock market recover from that setback earlier in the day? Did India win that T-20 match against South Africa?
Yes, the questions are just bubbling over in our heads and we simply cannot wait for the answers that are lurking in the electronic memory of our phones. So, the first thing we do is switch it on to reconnect with the world. And as the screen comes alive with messages, e-mails and phone calls, in a very real sense, we come alive as well. See, that’s the thing about modern living. We simply cannot stand the thought of being out of touch – with the news, with our friends, with the office, with social networking sites. No matter where we go, what we do, we must be plugged in. It’s the information age after all; so who could bear to be deprived of information?
Even if we are on holiday, when you are supposed to get away from it all, we want to stay in touch. What do you think is the first question most people ask when they check into a hotel? No, it’s not about what treatments the spa offers. It’s not about what time breakfast is served in the coffee shop. It’s not even about what speciality restaurants there are in the hotel.
No, what people want to know right away is how they can access wi-fi in their rooms. And this is as true of business hotels in big cities as it is of resort hotels in far-flung corners of the world where you should be enjoying the natural beauty all around you instead of surfing the Net. And yet, there we are, logging on to access our mail, check the news sites, and upload photographs on to Twitter and Facebook so that everyone knows exactly what we are up to (and we know what they are up to as well).
If there’s one thing that we can’t bear to do it is switch off – from the mad whirl of events that make up our world; from the constant thrill of the 24-hour news cycle; from the incessant pressure of our workplaces; and from the over-sharing that is such a defining feature of social media. And we certainly can’t bear to switch off our mobile phones without suffering pangs of anxiety about what we are missing out on.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami