We all have experienced that moment of pure horror when we try to feel our (expensive) mobile phone in the pocket and with a shock fail to find it there. But in most cases, this is usually immediately followed by the sensation of warm relief washing over us when we find that it was actually there and we were just panicking. The other day, I experienced the first but not the second, resulting in horror and terror gripping me. My heart skipped several beats, an audible gulp escaped my lips, I stood frozen for a second then turned around and ran like mad after the BMTC bus which was just leaving, shouting and waving my hands like a crazy person. The bus stopped, the doors hissed open and jumped in and rushed past the bewildered crew to the seat where I was sitting, hoping against hope. Of course there was nothing there. I ran back and confronted the conductor.
“Where is my phone?!” I demanded.
“My job is not safeguarding your phone. If you lost it, go complain to the Police. Now stop wasting my time and get out. I want to finish my shift, go home and sleep.” Came the angry reply.
I stepped out of the bus and back into the cold Bangalore December night. After standing around bewildered for a minute or so, I made my way back home, letting the terrible thought sink in that for the first time in 14 years of mobile phone usage, I had lost one. My heart was still skipping beats and there were lumps the size of golf balls in my throat as I checked and re-checked my pockets and bag. A part of my brain asked my hand to reach into my pocket and pull out the phone and inform everyone that I lost my phone while another part of my brain told the previous part that I had just lost my phone so how could I use the phone to tell everyone that I lost my phone? Faced with a situation I had never encountered in my life, I was as confused as a NRI in a government office. What do I do now? There was nobody else at home, the landline wasn’t working and I didn’t have any spare phones either. I had to let people know what had happened, but that had to wait until morning. I felt numb, terrified and lost. I also felt helpless and very, very sad :(
How could this have happened? I was always extra careful. I always carried my phone in my hand lest should it get pickpocketed, I never kept the phone out of my reach or on car dashboards/consoles. I only rarely keep it in my pocket and that night was one of those times. I was feeling sleepy in the bus so stuck the phone in my pocket and when I woke up, it was gone! Yes, only I am to blame. The worst things in life are those for which only you can be blamed. I know that Google keeps track of your Android phone wherever it goes (and thereby, wherever you go too), but I had of course opted out of this because, privacy. I could also have installed any of the gazillion phone security or tracker apps but I hate app clutter. I have the IMEI number of the phone but realistically, what do I do with it? Go to the cops? Don’t make me laugh. Anyway, none of these would’ve been of any use since the phone had run out of battery and had switched itself off. So, I guess it was goodby to my beloved Sony Xperia Acro S.
By the time I had reached home I was exhausted from the tug of war going on inside my brain and thankfully fell into a dreamless sleep. I woke up shivering at 7 am, feeling very alone and disconnected with the lump in my throat re-forming as I habitually reached to the side table to check the phone. Then looking at the clock, I suddenly remembered that I had to go to the reservation counter to book a Tatkal ticket! I jumped into the car and sped off only to hit a huge cement block someone had so thoughtfully left on the middle of the road, twisting my bumper out of shape. Yeah, I know, “Chalta hai”, “Swalpa adjust maadi”, this is India. Fortunately I found a Coin Box (yeah, those things still exist!) and informed the most required people about my adventures of the previous night. The entire process of procuring One-Rupee coins, dropping them into that slot, dialing the number on those hard keys and talking through the heavy earpiece was a trip back through time and was mildly therapeutic even. Oh and did you know that NSD (STD) calls through PCO coinboxes cost 4 bucks a minute even today? Ridiculous.
I reached the PRS counter only to find the Tatkal queue almost as long as a train itself. For the first time in many years, I spent one and a half hours standing in a queue without a phone! I stood there, rooted to the ground, looking at the birds flying around, rediscovering old joys like adding up digits on car number plates, observing the people and heir mannerisms, contemplating the meaning of life and to my horror, even striking up conversations fellow soldiers of the Tatkal battle! *shudder*. After two straight hours of standing and doing absolutely nothing, I of course did not get that confirmed Tatkal ticket (I got CKWL 16 which later would end at CKWL 11 on charting), even after running around to obtain change as demanded by the very nice official at the counter for which I had to buy three coffees, two chewing gums and a pen. But those two hours were kind of a breakthrough, probably the first two waking hours in years where I did not flick my thumb up and down a plate glass display unit of a handheld personal communication device, desperately trying to indulge myself in something.
The next stop was the Vodafone store where I was surprised for the first time in the day when I was handed a replacement SIM in no time! That done, I went home and was surprised again that it was only 1100! Then it dawned upon me that I had completely lost track of time ever since I had left home at 8 am. Irritated and angry, I sleepwalked through the rest of the day wandering around like a zombie. By the time night had fallen, I was completely lost, disoriented, confused and frustrated at being disconnected from the world. I kept reaching into my pocket all day and also kept swallowing my urge to call up random people and tell them that I was fine, just in case if they were trying to get in touch with me. Finally, when I was sure I would go nuts, a friend loaned me his spare Blackberry. I jumped at the offer, shoved my new SIM into the slot, turned the phone ON and watched as the network connected with a solid five bars and after a breathless minute, the device pinged as five pending messages came in: three from banks, one from IRCTC and one from some real estate spammer. So much for people missing me. I also realized why people hate Blackberry so much.
One loses their mind with it. I was confused, numb, sad, bored, depressed, paranoid and all those adjectives. And it was just a mobile phone, a device we use to call people. The effect of the loss it had on me! It was almost a life incident, like the death of a pet or worse! Incredible, isn’t it? More than merely tools for communication, these rectangular radio devices have have become a part extension of our selves, a virtual limb which connects us to everything we know. Saying that we are addicted to smartphones would be like saying we are addicted to our arms and legs. The “addiction” phase is long past us. They are part of us now, though many of us suffer from Smartphone Fatigue there is no going back now. Most of us are now so strongly and intimately bonded to our digital devices in an almost psychological manner that an unexpected deprivation of the device can severely screw up one’s emotional well-being, just like I was completely lost and disturbed without my mobile and kept hearing phantom rings, felt and kept reaching for phantom phones in my pocket, on my desk and in the car all the time. There is even a word for that, attachment anxiety. But contrary to popular belief, what troubled me most during those 24 hours of utter phonelessness was not my inability to access the Internet or any social medium.
It was the disconnect. I felt alone, disconnected and isolated from the world and everybody in it. I also felt jittery and paranoid about safety. What if there was an emergency? What if I had to contact somebody? What if somebody wanted to contact me? What if something (bad) had happened or my presence was required somewhere and I could not know about it? That feeling of not knowing things as they were happening. Of uncertainty and not being in control. I was not on top of things happening around me and to me, which terrified me! As it is we are hardly in control of our lives. Today’s communication systems help us to hang on to the illusion of certainty, of being in control and of staying on top of things. Once that certainty is removed, we get jittery and terrified because of the uncertainty, the angst that we are not in control. The world is a dark, murky and evil place where bad things can happen to anyone at any time and we are now programmed to start worrying if somebody fails to report in at specified intervals. The presence of a mobile phone at arms’ length has become a solid reassuring factor that we are in control, on top of things as they are happening. It has come to a stage where it is difficult to imagine a world without staying connected. Smartphones will evolve to encompass us. There is hardly anything we can do about it.
Said all that, I felt bored too. Terribly bored. I still have that OCD craving to stay ever-updated with all that nonsense that does not matter even an iota in my life via Twitter or keeping up with the unimaginably happy lives my friends on Facebook lead or answering all-important questions like “Why Indian galzz not like to make fraandship with Indian boyzzz?” on Quora or tracking which trains ran on time or not.
This incident also made me aware of the total absence of clocks in our urban landscapes. There is absolutely no way to keep track of time if you don’t have a mobile phone (or a watch). Anyway, I am still sad over the loss and I haven’t got a new phone yet. Planning on a Lumia this time. Nothing like getting a new phone to get over the loss. As they say, Move On!
Go ahead, lose it! Atleast once. Your phone, that is. It is an experience!
Update: Vadakkus no buy new smartphone. Vadakkus no have money. Vadakkus use 5 year old Nokia E63. Also, part of my attempts to try a “digital rehab” to recover from above said Smartphone Fatigue. Cheers!
Ever since I lost my moble phone, I am holding back the urge to shout random things to crowds of people in 140 characters.
— vadakkus (@vadakkus) December 26, 2013