‘My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky’ wrote William Wordsworth (much to the chagrin of fourteen-year-olds who have to write a critical analysis of the line), but he was a much older and gentler era during which most good people knew the existence of but two important capital G`s– God and George the third, King of Great Britain. It was the era in which people thought and wrote, strictly in that order. It was before the advent of the mobile phone and Whatsapp. Now, however, in the era of 4G, my heart leaps into my throat when I hear the angry bird-like warbling of my phone.
There is a good reason for it. Most mornings I am awakened before the alarm by the sound of my phone buzzing like a swarm of Stymphalian birds or bees or the locusts which had the gall to cross our borders without a passport, loudly enough to haunt my dreams. Now that my assorted family and friends spread all over the world are not as frenetically busy as they purportedly were, they have discovered the joys of social media with a vengeance. Not that they were ignorant before, but this is a sudden and scary transition from disciple to Guru.
This is what my inbox looks like on a dull Monday morning:
Medical College (General) ……150 unread messages
Medical College(Ladies) ………..200 unread messages
Extended Family…………………….113 unread messages
School Moms………………………….148 unread messages…….if you get the general drift.
Still chased by phantom winged creatures, I open a bleary eye cocking it towards the window, expecting to see it swarming with the unwelcome little pests, my ears already straining for the tromp of Chinese boots marching down the street. In the wake of this information onslaught, I then decide against the two scenarios aforementioned and decide that a vaccine for COVID 19 must have been discovered while I was asleep, or something terrible has happened to someone from the above-mentioned groups at the very least, but thankfully, it is nothing so dramatic!
More often than not, it is good morning messages, birthday wishes and pictures of all kinds, of what people cooked for dinner, what China (porcelain, not the country) they ate off, which flowers bloomed and which vegetables grew in whose garden, which celebrities they met in the middle of a lockdown? (really?), awful jamming sessions, of whose children achieved what and of course a slew of invites to Facebook Live concerts, webinars and Zoom meetings to keep my social diary full for the rest of my life and then some.
Yes, the older and wiser have told me that with the help of the helpful little mute button, I can avoid wading through these screeds, but there is always the danger of losing out on an important message in this sea of information that I seem to be drowning in. Many a time, I have meandered on my merry way, muting groups and people right, left and centre only to face the accusing glares of my offspring and better half, standing arms akimbo, the one because she did not receive the notice for the submission of a project and the other because he was not informed about the electricity bill, whose last date is long past (we have now officially passed the stage of finding candlelight dinners romantic). The gentle reminder for a long-overdue article from my editor sends another stab of guilt through me because it is so politely worded ( I would have been foaming at the mouth had I been in her shoes)
The worst is yet to come as people have acquired a newfound sensitivity if their latest offering is not acknowledged with alacrity by sending an emoticon at the very least. You have to be seen live at the online concert you were invited to, making your presence felt with lots of Wah! Wahs! never mind if the singer sounds like a cat whose tail has been at the receiving end of a number ten shoe and you actually want to bawl WAAAAAAH WAAAAH!. Doors which were actually open once upon a time are now virtually shut with a bang! It is no wonder that a socially lazy being like yours truly is now officially ostracized from several groups including the School Moms group. While this has its advantages, they are outnumbered by the drawbacks, which I happened to discover the hard way when my offspring’s school was about to begin with online teaching and I did not receive the required password. Had it not been for a less vindictive mother who took pity on me, there would have been hell to pay.
Are we all seeking to be emperors of our virtual world? Perhaps yes. The need for validation for every little achievement seems to be our undoing. The constant need to feed our hubris and peek to everyone`s life has made deep inroads into who we think we are. Perhaps it is time to ponder on the fact that while it is perfectly legitimate to take to social media to announce yourself to the world, it is also legitimate for the world to acknowledge your announcement or to ignore it.
Until then, I lie on my couch, Wordsworth like, in vacant and pensive mood, awaiting not the sight of the dancing daffodils, but that of a clogged inbox, muttering to myself ‘And then my heart with horror fills, every time my phone trills’!!!!