The Smartphone: The Time Thief
Humans have certainly made things happen. In several blinks, 6,000 years’ worth of civilisations have risen and fallen. In this fleeting history, we have in a repetitive and nonlinear sequence: war, peace and progress. In recent centuries, clever and innovative man has managed to produce many things that end in –isations, each pursuit to better mankind with a similar goal: to increase efficiency and convenience so that man can march on at an even more rapid pace.
Then comes the exponential growth and explosion of technology. Swiftly, it took the world by storm and continues to sweep us off our feet. Yet, one cannot help but question whether humans still rule supreme. In the new age that continues to be revolutionised by the latest technological gadgets, we are bestowed the indispensable smartphone. Suddenly, the ability to multitask, manage and manipulate time, and strengthen social networks is mastered by all, regardless of age and educational background. The slogan of “live life faster and better” is thus born.
Yet, some viewed the handheld computer as both a blessing and a curse. Had technology located man’s Achilles’ heel? Perturbed scientists observed that smartphones were linked to reduced cognitive functioning and proliferating health concerns, especially in adolescents. Ailments included deformity of the spine due to hours spent hunched over and an affliction where thumbs swelled to the sizes of plums. Most worryingly was the rising global trend of deaths caused by sheer exhaustion from tapping away at smartphones for excessive periods of time. Were these techno-teens have glitches in both their mental software and physical hard drive? In immediate response to the alarming predicament, the United Kingdom’s government launched and funded a covert mission to offset the pitfalls of the smartphone. Hence, the top-secret Internet Obsessed Students (IOS) came to be.
In the blink of any eye, IOS came up with an ingenious scheme to help teens come to realise that there was more to life than their smartphone screens. The most severely affected by the smartphone were identified, and thus sent on a month-long expedition to Mars, where under strict supervision, they would assist in the construction of a greenhouse at the space station. It was a risky experiment, but also a last resort. Without a moment to lose, the IOS sent a classified message to 15 of the most addicted-to-phones teens, and they were promised a lifetime of smartphones upon successful completion of the task. Of course, these unwitting victims took the bait without a moment’s hesitation. Accustomed to living life at top speed, they didn’t care to glimpse through the fine print: all participants shall partake in a mandatory weeklong training session.
On sight, all participants were stripped of their electronic devices. They were aghast at such “injustice”, but reluctantly conceded in pursuit of the coveted prize. Begrudgingly, they stepped foot into the training arena, a bare room, apart from a few rickety stools and a dusty black board. The location seemed positively stone-age to the flabbergasted boys and girls. As they were briefed on what was expected from them in the focused learning environment whines of “Ew! Is this even clean? Where are the Hover Chairs?” filled the air.
After a tormenting hour of squeezing unexercised, obese bodies into normal-sized space suits and exchanging tiny suits to oversized ones, the grumbling youths were grouped into threes. Their first activity was announced: in the time span of five minutes, groups had to tear off pieces of archaic newspaper into specific shapes, only using their right hands to manoeuvre the inky pieces of paper. Eyes rolling at the banality of the task that sounded easy as pie, the moodily proceeded. However, it was an utter catastrophe. The initial moment of uneasy silence was swiftly punctured by barking commands, speedily mounting to pandemonium. As shreds of paper swirled, rules were broken, and the continuous howls and shrieks of the hormonal bunch drowned out the desperate pleas of the anxious trainer.
Eventually chaos died down, and the stunned crowd surveyed the damage. Scrap lay in heaps on the once spotless floor, the obnoxious fighters were covered in scratches, and the socially awkward ones sat curled up in ball, sobbing from in sheer shock. The trainer stared in dismay at the students. “Now, do you see why communication and teamwork is imperative to get anything done? It prevents disaster from unfolding, just like what we have witnessed! Slow down to listen, understand and compromise!” Upon reflection, the sheepish teens reached the consensus that the long forgotten idiom “haste makes waste” rang true. In due time, the repeat of the same activity went much smoother, but not without its hiccups, for good teamwork did not happen overnight.
After three gruelling days of training, things were finally looking up. The teenagers had gone from basically nothing to a lot less than average. That was considerably good, considering the fact that technology had moulded these poor creatures into socially inept techno-zombies, of which turn-taking, perspective-taking and sharing were alien concepts. Without their smartphones at their sides, they learnt a tad about listening, verbal expression and negotiation. Although their motive was only to snatch the grand prize, it was a promising start. Meanwhile, the IOS furtively tracked and monitored the entire process from behind the one-sided mirror, in silent and grim nods. The next phase was to foster an appreciation for real life, in real time, without the smartphone as a crutch.
Soon, a sleek, smooth spaceship fashioned out of the cutting-edge technology loomed above admiring spectators eager to send off the heroic teens. One by one, they strapped themselves in. It was at this point, they began feeling an unfamiliar emotion – fear. What if something went wrong? Waves of anxiety washed over the cabin as they sat in still silence and contemplation. At long last, the metallic disc, revved up the huge engine. Vroom! The space administrators started counting down. “Three, two, one, up!” The disc shot into the sky, insides rattling like a hamster in its cage. Sighing, the teenagers lied back, urging the pilot to accelerate, so that they could get the mission over and done with A.S.A.P., for the mentality of “live life faster and better” still ran through their veins.
Space was a stretch of unfathomable infinity, with stars, like flowers in the meadow of the sky, as mysterious mists swirled and cascaded like enchanted waterfalls. However, the preoccupied and fretting astronauts paid no attention to nature’s splendour, as they were far too busy urging the sweaty pilot to go faster! Due to new-fangled high-tech design, the entire ride took a mere day to arrive. Tucked away deep within the boundless volume of inky darkness was the awe-inspiring fire star, Mars. Before long, the spaceship made a gentle descent into the atmosphere, shrouded in swirling, mysterious mists that cascaded iridescent particles of dazzling hues. Soon volcanic landforms coated in hardened lava at the freezing temperature of -60 degrees Celsius came into view.
Hesitantly, the explorers of the new world staggered out of the contraption. Invisible winds ruthlessly charged and tore at the air, with billowing clouds floating just above. Again, none of this was observed. This time, separating into groups of five, they headed determinedly to the space station to proceed with their task: building that confounded garden. Hurriedly, they assembled the necessary tools, stumbling over their feet and cursing the fact that they still remained smartphone-less, which would’ve contained plentiful apps to organise, instruct and guide them through it with speed and ease. Pots were accidentally smashed, seeds were scattered indiscriminately, and they emerged from the war-zone after a day’s worth of work as though they had just had a mud bath.
By day two, most were frustrated beyond belief and ready to call it quits. Thankfully, one of the girls, who was more calm and wise decided to give them all a pep talk. In an inspiring speech, she reminded them of their previous failures and reasons for successes during their training period. “Yes, we could give up or do a slapdash job, and in the blink of an eye, we could all be sent home. But, we have all come this far, on a once-in-lifetime excursion, why not make the most of it? Let us slow down, enjoy the time, the process. After all, we aren’t permitted to leave until a few weeks later.” They had no choice but to agree.
By day five, a delicate shoot surfaced from the soil. Nothing could describe the teens’ pride and astonishment as they ogled at the vulnerable, translucent green shoot. Never had they reaped from hard, manual labour before. Each passing day, blooming flora from meticulously twisted vines and hedges multiplied before their eyes. From mere mud and water, a little patience and care had nurtured the slow explosion of colour and life. Time seemed to stand still as they basked in the glory of their achievements – growing and landscaping a stunning garden. For the first time in their lives, they didn’t fret about losing time, but relished each moment time gifted them.
Throughout the process, the astro-gardeners were able to become better acquainted with one another. Slowing down had forged emotional ties amongst one another, not through cyberspace, but in reality. Like their garden, empathy and altruism was cultivated through persistence and effort. They had developed a deep respect and appreciate for time, as it is time that offers the opportunity to form genuine friendships, build truly magnificent creations, and to bask in the grandeur of nature. Then it came, the realisation hit them like a ton of bricks: living life as fast as possible was not the goal. Smartphones were not a necessity to their lives. They could live without them.
As they boarded the spaceship again, they requested the bewildered pilot to slow down, so they could soak up the picturesque scenery at a leisurely pace. It was the exact same thing they had passed before, but this time, somehow, someway, a fresh perspective on life had afforded them a new lens to experience the world.
Once the spacecraft touched down, the once smartphone addicted teens held the world’s attention. No one, not even IOS, could’ve anticipated what happened next. All eyes, green with envy, were on the stoic Queen of England, who wore a floor-length blue gown with diamonds shimmering on the dress, complete with a sapphire crown and ruby bracelets dangling on her wrists. She strode up to the spaceship’s gaping entrance to present to them their deserved rewards. The same wise girl stepped forth, bowed and cleared her throat. “Your majesty, we humbly decline the prize for we have already been awarded the greatest prize of all, time – time to bond with one another and realise that there is more to life than living it “faster and better” with smartphones.” With that she shifted her gaze from the dumbstruck queen to the camera crew. “Girls and boys, heed our advice. Look up from your flickering screens once in a while, and you might find that there is much more to the world than you can ever find on cyberspace.” Everyone held their breath before the Queen broke the tension by squealing, “Hurrah!”, tossing the gift vouchers into the air. This was followed by thunderous applause.
It was on that day, the group of 15 planted the real seeds for change, not on Mars but on planet Earth. The IOS’ mission proved a complete success. In the blink of an eye, smartphone addicted couch potatoes were making transformations on a global scale, making sure their precious time would not be stolen by the villainous smartphone. The world understood that the slogan had always been wrong: the aim of our lives isn’t to live life faster and better. It is to live real life, in real time.