Monday, 25 December 2017

The obsession with gadgets

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interactions. The world will have a generation of idiots.” – Albert Einstein.

It was a weekend evening and the members of the Mankar family were gathered in the living room to catch up on a much needed family time and to plan out the next family holiday. The weekdays were usually very busy for all, Mr. And Mrs Mankar were professionals and their two children, two twin girls aged nearly 18 years were involved with preparing for their college admissions. The weekends were usually time for the family to be together. The twins were as different from each other as possible, one was sports oriented and the other was more inclined towards art. One was a bit feisty and the other quieter however they were always close to each other. Their pet dog and a couple of domestic support staff made up the rest of the family. It was a family with well organized schedules and routines and in the large expansive house sometimes the atmosphere was so quiet even when the family members gathered in the same room that it might lead one to wonder whether the house was unoccupied. Of course from time to time when the in-laws and extended family visited and stayed with them the home seemed far more vibrant and bustling.

As the tea and snacks were being cleared away, Mrs Swati Mankar asked if anyone had any suggestions or preferences for the family holiday. There were a few mumbles from the kids for their attention was glued to their mobile screens, their fingers rapidly tapping on the keys, perhaps exchanging or responding to messages or surfing on social media sites or playing games. This was often the scene in the household of late and Mr Mankar was equally caught up between responding to calls and watching television. His attention too was divided and needless to say the discussion on the holiday plan did not progress as expected. However, Mrs Mankar had already foreseen this scenario and had already made up her mind with regards to the upcoming vacation.

As a child psychologist, Mrs Mankar dealt with various behavioural issues with children of different age groups, on a regular basis. In her children she did not see any deviational behaviour that could be of major concern, however lately she has been involved in several cases involving teenagers which has made her aware of the impact of social media and gadgets on children and she was prone to comparing and observing her own children against these latest trends. She had read enough about how destructive and obsessive the games were and about the negative impact of social media on children. She had also noted that conversation among the family members had become minimal. They were all like isolated entities even when in the same room, a sense of detachment was visible in her teenage daughters. Even when her daughters were sitting with each other there was more finger tapping on the mobile phone than verbal exchanges. This was not normal, because they were each other’s best friends; giggles, gossip, leg pulling and fights were normal.

Last month when the grandparents were here and there were family get-togethers she noted that the children did not spend enough time with the grandparents or did not participate in the family conversations. Her children and their cousins even when in a group were more focused on mobiles or laptops and any questions to them were answered in monosyllables. She had seen these children walk with a drooping shoulders, head bent down with eyes on mobile, staying up late to be on Facebook or play online games. They were neither interested in their family nor their surroundings. They were often lethargic and groggy and even irritable if dragged into a conversation. It was not at an acute stage yet but if something had to be done it had to be done now. Soon the daughters would go to college and be away from home, there would be less and less of family time.

She took up the conversation with her husband post dinner as they were retiring for the day. She shared her fears and her suggestion that this time the holiday must be planned in such a way that for that 3 weeks they could be in the midst of deep nature where network signals were frail and the access to internet entirely cut off. She suggested a coffee estate deep within Masinaguri where her sister had visited with her family. There are enough opportunities for activities like trekking, animal safari, photography, story-telling by the bonfire, local bands coming in to entertain guests with country music, visit to coffee a factory, pottery making, some gardening, etc. Basically there was enough to keep guests engaged and help them enjoy the leisurely pace and rejuvenate from the fatigue of modern life. Soon all arrangements were finalised, although the children did not readily like the idea of being so isolated.

They reached Masinaguri resort and settled in to enjoy their holiday and within a day or two, Mrs Mankar saw her daughters laughing more, talking to each other more, going out for walks and treks, participating enthusiastically in the different activities and above all making friends and being social. Mrs Mankar was exceedingly happy with the outcome of her holiday plans but she began contemplating if something could be done to make this change more permanent. In a conversation with Mrs. Simon, the owner of the resort, she mentioned her concerns and Mrs Simon suggested that they should consider sending their girls to the Good Shepherd Finishing School in Ooty.

Mrs Simon explained that the School, located in Ooty nestled in the pristine hills of the Nilgiris mountain range had courses on offer which helped change ‘a young girl into a lady’, The residential programs covered topics like the art of self-presentation, public speaking, protocol, etiquettes and social graces to help handle every interaction in every social setup with poise and confidence. The learners were exposed to different sports including squash, horse-riding and golf; a foreign language; musical instruments of their choice; baking and cooking of several popular national and international dishes and different competitions to prove their merit in learning. Mrs Simon connected her with a counsellor from the school who filled her in with more details about the school and the programs on offer. Mr and Mrs Mankar were suitably impressed and decided to go ahead with admitting their girls to the school. And a few months later when the Mankar girls returned home after completing the program, the parents observed with awe, the impressive changes in the behaviour of the girls who were now poised, confident and well-mannered young ladies and made a mental note to send a heartfelt ‘thank you’ note to Mrs Simon.

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