Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Slave No More

Published May 22, 2012 - Muscat Daily. Click here to view article on the newspaper's website.

I'm a recovering addict. How's that for an opening sentence? Let me start at the beginning. I've always been a very organised person. Before cellphones and the Internet, I managed my life through daily planners (remember those?) Once modern technology invaded Oman and I discovered the wonders of handheld phones, I started managing my life through my BlackBerry.

I was constantly tuned in to my channels of communication. On my handheld alone I managed my work e-mails, personal e-mails, blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts, WhatsApp account, BlackBerry Messenger, and good old SMS… not to mention the occasional call or two! I also drafted most of my columns on the phone.

With over 2,000 contacts, life seemed manageable on the handheld. Furthermore, I was on my computer all day at work then I'd spend a good chunk of my time at home on my laptop answering personal e-mails and tuning in to world happenings. I was your typical tech-savvy 20-something year old. In other words, I was a complete slave to modern technology.

A little over a year ago while on vacation in London, my BlackBerry decided to die a cold and damp death after I accidentally left it by an open window all night. When I realised what had happened the next morning, I frantically tried to revive it by removing the battery several times, shaking it, banging it against the wall, and finally begging it with all my heart to come back to life. When it failed to respond, I finally sank to the floor and stared at the blank screen for over an hour as my life fell apart. I thought I had lost everything; my contacts, photos, notes and conversations. Slowly I began to feel physically ill. My illness was soon followed by heart palpitations. That's how upset I was. Don't mock me.

With eight whole days before my flight back to Oman, how was I going to survive? For the first couple of days, I wandered through the streets of London feeling lost and miserable. I was depressed and unable to focus on anything or anyone around me. On day three, I settled down under a tree in Hyde Park and decided to address my anxiety. Why was I so miserable? Why was I so dependent on this ugly little handheld device? What had I become? And finally, how on earth did we all live and communicate before cellphones and e-mail? To be honest, I couldn’t remember. This realisation scared me.

I acknowledged how ridiculous the situation was and decided to take control of my own life. The next five days turned out to be the best part of my vacation. I allowed myself to unwind and enjoy leisurely strolls and meals without constantly looking at my phone and worrying about minor work issues thousands of miles away.

Upon my return to Salalah, I bought a new BlackBerry but only activated my work e-mails. I bid farewell to Twitter and Facebook on the handheld. I forbade myself from using the computer at home unless absolutely necessary. My phone was put on silent mode after 10 pm every night and I was actually able to walk from one room to the next without carrying my phone with me.

A few nights ago just as I was going to bed, my year-old BlackBerry decided to die a peaceful death. This time though, I stared at the blank screen, yawned and went to bed. I felt neither stress nor anxiety. My contacts were saved on my computer at work and my e-mails were all safe and sound somewhere on the World Wide Web. Nothing else mattered. In other words, I was finally growing up.

Looking back at that cold morning in London a year ago, I can't tell you how pleased I am with myself. I'm still a long way away from being able to switch my phone off completely and not check email for a few days, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that as everyone around me becomes more and more connected, I am seeking to disconnect. In fact, I'm sitting at my kitchen table right now writing this column on real paper using a real pen. My phone is charging in another room. All is well in my world.