For Their Own Sake

A few years ago, I saw this video and read this post on how portable tech and its software has revolutionised and eaten the world. A blitzkrieg style assault on everything. A remarkable journey where one single device replaced countless others. The mobile phone, for example, is ubiquitous. A technology that was once a luxury has now become a necessity. Rewind to the mid and late nineties, an elite few had access to the mobile phone. Now, they’re everywhere with everyone. This is generally how technology integrates itself with society. There are early adopters, and then the crowds follow. The reason – economies of scale bringing down costs.

This technological revolution brought along with it the promise of increased productivity and multitasking. We can now afford to read, talk, watch, listen, and work all at the same time. Blurring the lines between work and leisure, colleagues and family, what could once be painted in shades of white and black now became brushstrokes with shades of grey. Like watercolours bleeding onto one another when they are fresh, one thing bled into another, taking up space and attention. This upheaval lured us away from the vital connections we had with each of these activities.

When I saw the image on the Gecko post, one thing caught my eye – the Walkman. Although I’ve used one a few times, I didn’t take a fancy to it. I was happier using the boom box stereo system that came with a multi-band equaliser. I could fiddle with various frequencies to make the music sound better. The stereo system was an exclusive device made for listening. One could do nothing else with it. Journey back a few more decades, and you arrive at the gramophone, which also served only one purpose: playing music. You popped in a cassette or slipped a record, and music filled the room. Sometimes, background squeaks used to present themselves through the speakers. It was a reminder that the cassette or record was well used, like leather developing a patina over the years. An overdose of nostalgia. Listening to music was an enlightening experience. There were no strings attached to it – not for the sake of improving productivity or something that played in the elevator or in your car. Listening to music was for its own sake. Something that is almost lost today.

I’ve seen a similar thing happen in writing too. Writing today involves typing out emails, posting messages on social media, or short-form messaging on WhatsApp. With some purpose. Writing on the physical medium, too, seems to be with a motive. People write morning pages to empty their thoughts, express gratitude, and remind themselves of their purpose. I have done this too. I wrote morning pages every day – even made a statement or two about it. However, most of the posts here on the blog never came out from those pages. They came when I sat down in front of a blank screen and started to type. When I wrote for the sake of *writing* itself. That is also when writing led to fulfilment. When I wrote to find meaning, I never came close to it. But when I wrote for the sake of writing, I stumbled upon meaning too.

It doesn’t stop here. This effect has also clawed its way into reading. I was reading and taking diligent notes, trying to connect the dots. Once again, I’ve made a statement or two about this on Twitter because I thought it was a cool thing to do; till a few months ago. I was reading David Deutsch’s “The Beginning of Infinity” and taking notes. All of a sudden, I lost interest in reading. If I had to give it a name – I’d hit readers block. Not only in reading that book but generally in reading. It was a chore. I couldn’t explain it. I was browsing the covers on my shelf and picked up a Murakami. It was absorbing and enthralling. Murakami is one of my favourite authors. I fell in love with the book. I picked up books from the suggested reading section that were mentioned by Haruki. I came across two books – One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I fell in love with these books too. I also felt a twinge of guilt – I was having a secret love affair with each of these books. One didn’t know about the other. Haha. I found joy in reading once again. I wondered why. It took some time for me to figure it out, but then I realised it was because I read for the sake of *reading*. Not for notes, not to make connections, but to just read.

The biggest brunt perhaps has been borne by the one thing the phone was invented to do – to connect people afar, both in space and time. To stay in touch with them, listen to their voice and drown in a sea of emotions. It is ironic to see the mobile phone do more of everything else and less of this. It appears to be one of those creations that has betrayed the very purpose it was created for. If the phone had a soul, it would cringe. I still find it satisfying to pick up my phone and call someone instead of sending messages. It’s so very human!

Technology definitely ate many things, made the world smaller, and maybe more efficient too, but it also engulfed the emotions connected to each aspect of what it touched. Nowadays, I make it a point to do each of these things for their own sake, for without it, life seems a little colourless. Next time you listen to a song, listen. When you write, write. While you read, read. Talk to a loved one. For all these experiences come from the same place that we come from – having a soul.

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