What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Stretch a little, drink a glass of water? Rub your eyes and will your body into leaving the warmth of the bed?
That used to be me, a couple of years ago. I’d lie curled under my Jaipuri quilt, gazing out the window — sunlight streaming through the oak leaves, the sound of finches going about their daily business.
And then something changed.
My head propped against two pillows, still not quite awake, I would reach for my laptop, slowly open my eyes and stare at thousands of updates from bloggers, friends, and journalists around the world.
While I waded through the tweets, plurks, tumblelogs, Flickrs, Jaiku activity streams, Facebook and Plaxo Pulse updates, I was also e-mailing colleagues and speeding through RSS feeds in my customized Google Reader. I would spend the first 20 minutes every morning scrambling through the noise of Web 2.0.
Thanks to my iPhone, I could also carry the “noise” with me. As I scanned through another 1,ooo+ unread news items, I munched on my mix of pumpkin seeds and flax granola mixed with rolled oats and Cheerios.
My Bluetooth device in place, I would step out to catch the shuttle that would ferry me over to the light rail station a mile away. During the 40-minute commute, I would access my social networking updates through FriendFeed, continue scanning news items and sharing the ones I liked with friends, tweet about the crowd in the train, and review work e-mails.
I had become a cyborg.
Even though at heart, I’m more of a floppy-disk than a thumb-drive person, I had been swallowed by the “need” to keep up with the millennials. Just so, I could feel relevant.
I didn’t have a cell phone until my first job in India at age 23 and we got around just fine by using pay phones, writing letters (yes, that’s right – handwritten letters on paper that we mailed), and meeting people face-to-face.
I distinctly remember when we sat around as a family to watch the one public television channel that was broadcast from 5 to 10 p.m. on our black and white TV.
That was it.
There was no pay-per-view, or 300 channels to choose from and we couldn’t “log on” to watch YouTube videos.
We read books for entertainment, we had real-time conversations at the dinner table instead of texting our friends while chomping down a meal, we went out and played softball, cricket and badminton (not as a structured activity, but for fun!) and we waited while the phone rang and rang and rang until it got disconnected.
And then we called again.
But things have changed – and drastically so. For today’s kids, being wireless is the norm, texting is the new e-mail, and voice messages have always existed. Even the two-year-olds throw a “regular” phone away in favor of swiping their index finger rapidly on an iPhone screen!
Now we have this ever-pressing need to be “connected” — not just online — but actually actively socializing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Orkut, Buzz, Habbo, hi5, Foursquare, Xanga or a plethora of other services.
I have 378 friends on Facebook and 162 people in my Orkut network — 99.9 percent of them are people I have met and known at some point in my life.
I love the fact that I can look at their profile updates, go through their public photos and scroll through their Walls or Scrapbooks to see what’s going on in their lives. But not everyone has this policy of “friending” — most social network users open up their network to strangers — that’s the whole point, they say, of networking!
And don’t even get me started on Chatroulette — the latest fad that pairs random strangers for Webcam-based conversations. Eek!
For me, the internet has made it a lot easier to keep in touch with family and friends. But when it starts becoming more real than the reality of your life, it’s time to take a timeout.
And that’s what I have done.
I log on to Facebook thrice a day: once every morning to check on friends’ updates and ask my question of the day, then sometime in the afternoon to post an update of this blog, and then for half an hour at night to beat my opponents at Bejeweled Blitz.
I’ve stopped following Twitter as rampantly and phased out all the other services that hogged my time and attention, leaving me no time to think. Just consume. Reams and reams of unstoppable information.
I’ve whittled down my Google Reader subscriptions to the ones I will actually read, not keep saving to pore over “some day.”
Now, I take a minute, sometimes two, to appreciate being alive to see another morning before “plugging in.”
I watch the weather and traffic reports while eating breakfast and listen to the radio during my commute.
Sometimes I take a break from the distant chatter in the background and just hum.
I like being able to think critically, stretch my mental muscles, and analyze, not just observe, what is. I like being able to share something meaningful. And as much as I want to be in step with the times, I’m not going be so obsessed with documenting irrelevant updates that I lose touch with reality.
I don’t want to be one of those people for whom events become real only when they tweet about them.
Maybe I’m just getting “old.”