In the last week of 2017, I travelled to Varanasi, one of the oldest continually inhabited places on Earth. I was looking forward to getting lost in the narrow lanes of this ancient city and understanding its vibe—talking to the sadhus, the street vendors, the paanwalas and the boatman, watching the aarti by the river Ganga, soaking in the chaos, the traffic and even the sight and smell of cows and burning pyres.

The boyfriend and I were also looking forward to eating local food, the street side chaat, jalebis made in desi ghee, drinking lassi, sipping on piping hot kulhad chai and having malaiyo, a light frothy dessert available only in the winters. High on my list was also shopping, buying traditional Banarasi sarees.

I was also told by my dad to take a dip in the Ganga, but there was no way that I could even get myself to touch its filthy waters. Hindus come to Varanasi to wash away their sins by immersing themselves in the holy river. They also come to this holy city to perform the last rites of their beloved. The belief is that you can attain moksha or escape the cycle of rebirths if you are laid to rest in Varanasi. Death is inescapable in this city.

I had started out on my first day as a tourist wanting to capture the city, its sights and sounds with my iPhone. I even did a live broadcast of a small segment of the hour-long evening aarti by the river front on Instagram. But somewhere in the midst of posting live updates and sharing pictures, it dawned upon me that I was not being present in the moment, not soaking it in, not absorbing, not observing.

I slipped my phone into my bag and laid to rest my fear of missing out (FOMO) on capturing the perfect picture. That evening, as we had dinner at the Darbhanga restaurant in the 200-year-old Brijrama Palace, I restrained myself from clicking pictures of the beautiful brass thali or the fresco roof of the restaurant, which took 18 years to restore and opened only last year. Instead, I decided to use my Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 that had a cartridge of just 10 film sheets to capture some of the best moments. The rule, I told my boyfriend, is that even if we use our smartphones, think of it as having a limited roll and not to go on filming and clicking pictures endlessly. He, though, did not follow my cue.

I also laid to rest my FOMO on important office emails, notifications on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I didn’t need to know what’s going in the world or to share everything I did in real-time. And I can now report that I did not miss anything.

In the last decade, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives. We spend about four hours a day on it, according to the Internet Trends 2017 report by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, using it for everything from entertainment, social media and messaging to shopping online. I, for instance, look at my phone every five minutes. It’s no longer the productive aid that it promised to be—bringing the world into your hand—but instead a huge distraction. And, I know that I am not the only one feeling like that.

Even smartphone maker Motorola in its latest campaign released in India in November is talking about a phone-life balance. The campaign stemmed from the fact that people are using their smartphones mindlessly and there is a need to be more mindful when using the phone, Rachna Lather, marketing head, Motorola and Lenovo Mobiles India told Afaqs in an interview.

There are a number of publications and studies warning consumers of the adverse impact of technology’s pervasiveness on our lives and children. For instance there is the fear of automation taking away jobs. By 2021, one in four people who lose their jobs because of automation will be from India, according to research by human resources PeopleStrong.

Also, as our dependence on our smartphones grows, so does our mistrust. The fact that Facebook, Google, Spotify and Netflix know everything about us—our most embarrassing habits, moments and searches—and can judge us is unnerving.

Additionally, reports of the negative effects of social media on the mental and physical health of our youth and children can’t be ignored—shorter attention spans due to increasingly digitalized lifestyle.

Interestingly, some of Silicon Valley’s top executives send their children to Waldorf School of the Peninsula, where they don’t introduce screens until the eighth grade. Even Steve Jobs in an interview in 2010 during the launch of the iPad had told a journalist that his family limited how much technology his kids use at home.

It’s no surprise then that in the last couple of years, we have witnessed the revival of old-school gadgets like the Polaroid and Fujifilm instant cameras and turntables. In fact, Saregama’s Caravan, a music player launched in March 2017 that looks like the good old transistor radio, with a built-in music library of 5,000 old songs, was one of the hottest gifting items this festive season. Also, it’s not just nostalgia that’s causing the revival in sales. A lot of the customers buying these analogue machines are young customers born in the digital world.

At the end of the day, it’s not about analogue and digital or online and offline. It’s about finding balance. For me, Varanasi helped restore that balance.

Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.

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