Monday, 25 September 2017

Has the smartphone stolen the beauty of delayed gratification?

Qatar's recent Guinness World record for the longest selfie stick is another very small notch in the belt of this 'bantamweight' of a Gulf State.  It was a record set by a Qatar youth program called 'Sky Climbers' during their graduation ceremony on 19th September.



Although not averse to taking the odd selfie here and there (a necessity for a solo traveller), I do however, shudder at the scourge of the selfie stick.  Lets put it this way..... you may be a narcissist, but why advertise it?  When you see a grown man puckering up to his digital camera on a stick, while his wife is sitting right there, it does make one question where all this is going.


There is something about the instant nature of all things these days which leads to a growing sense of frustration, lack of patience and an endless search for perfection - if we dont like the selfie, we can keep taking it until we feel satisfied with the image.



I never thought I would reach the age when I started to 'remember the old days' with affection.  But i have to say, I feel fortunate to be of the generation who knew what it was like to take their roll of film to the photographic developers and wait for an envelope of photographs to be printed.  The word 'instant' in this context at that time usually meant anything between 1 and 5 days.



They eventually sped up the process and if you could afford the additional charge (yes kids, you had to pay for it!).... you might be able to get their premium 1 hour service!!  But dont forget, you had to finish the whole roll of .... 24 or 36 photos.  Yes, thats right.... you only had 24 exposures in each roll of film!  Imagine that?!



But I now mourn the loss of a time when we had to wait for stuff.   We had to wait for the News to come on the TV or radio to find out what was going on in the world (pre-Twitter).


We had to wait in a queue outside a public telephone booth to make a phone call when we were out of the house (pre-mobile phones).



We had to wait in a queue at the cinema for tickets for the latest blockbuster movie.... I remember doing just that to see Star Wars for the first time in 1977 (pre-internet).



We had to wait for letters from friends to arrive in the post (pre-email).



When I travelled around America and Canada on Greyhound buses in 1989 when I was 20 years old, the only way I could communicate with my family was by letters sent through the post and a very occasional telephone call in a public phone box using coins, spending the whole conversation dreading the onset of the 'pips' which would indicate that your time was up.



Now I hear the cries of "whats so great about all that?"

One word...... ANTICIPATION!  There is a great joy to be had in the delayed gratification of all things.  Waiting, anticipating and then when you get that thing, valuing it completely.  Who values the ability to communicate these days?  Whatsapp, facebook, twitter, instant messenger, skype are all useful tools and have made the ability to communicate across borders, timezones and miles much easier and who would deny that?



But this instant everything society is one in which the post internet generation expect it all NOW! NOW! NOW!, get a medal for coming last and waiting for anything will just not do!

 But Im sad that this generation will never know the delightful anticipation of delayed gratification.  The pleasure of waiting itself that makes the event so much more worth the wait.  The nervous excitement when waiting for your batch of photos from your recent holiday.  And the beautiful reliving of the memories when you finally open the envelope and get 24 little 6x4 surprises.


In addition to our 24 snapshots, we used our minds to build a memory bank of internal photos and movies of events in our lives which remain with us to this day, without having to swipe through our photostream.  I wonder if any studies are being done to discover the affect of smartphones on our ability to remember.


The problem being that so many people now witness events through their smartphone screens.  One colleague of mine recently recounted an event where he saw a woman recording the first half of a performance through her smartphone and then she proceeded to watch that during the second half !!


We no longer experience things 'live' at all.  Even when we are there..... we are not really there.  I see people sitting together in cafes in the Souq here in Qatar, and I observe them for a while..... no conversation, no eye contact, no acknowledgement that they are together at all.  Life literally passing by with no engagement whatsoever.  All attention on the little screen, giving instant access to the latest news,  latest trends, latest updates on what friends are doing...... while their friend who sits beside them is ignored and is doing the same thing.


There seems to be no way to put this genie back in the bottle.  Smartphones, email, whatsapp, Amazon - we all use them and they are a fact of life..... here I am blogging, so I know the value of the technology.  But we need to find a balance where we use the technology for good rather than allowing it to control our behaviour. And we somehow need to find a way back to valuing what's important, sometimes leaving our phones at home and being present in mind as well as body.


As for the selfie stick?   Why not instead, talk to a real person and ask if they wouldn't mind taking your photo - thats what we used to do.  You never know who you might get talking to.


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