Living in ‘App’ier Times

(Published in The Huffington Post India : http://www.huffingtonpost.in/shaira-mohan/ )

After a recent visit to us in Munich, my parents, who fit right in to the quintessential ‘technologically – challenged’ generation of today, were to hail a cab to the airport for their return to India, when my father, new to the world of ‘apps’ was given a brief masterclass on how to order and renew money on the Uber app by my husband – the quintessential tech-geek of today.

It was interesting to observe these two worlds collide to perform the most uphill of tasks  – a man whose entire day consists of gadgets, apps and computers, trying to explain a seemingly simple click-to-order process (simple if you are from the App generation) to a man who enjoys his conventional paper and pen routine and has close to nil patience for uploading, downloading or offloading of anything. That really is the crux of the Generation Gap today.

Today, our smartphones, laptops and Apps rule our lives. From calling a taxi to ordering groceries, from downloading music, playing games, ordering takeaway, searching for travel fares and tickets to even finding your soul mate – there is nothing that a thumb on an app cannot accomplish. In fact, why even bother using the thumb when Siri or the Google voice service can just listen to what you want on your mobile device and find it for you without you having to lift a finger!

The plethora of Application Software (Apps) available to us today is an impressive and varied catalog addressing even those aspects of our lives that we never give a second thought to, but having an app for, say, measuring the number of steps you walk in a day, has certainly wet our beaks and roused our curiosity. Some of the most widely trending and used apps today like Instagram and Facebook have hit it out of the park as far as customer retention goes by nailing the culmination of social interaction, photography, editing and sharing content – all the things that have made addicts out of us.

I recently watched the stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari’s show on Netflix where amid hilarious anecdotes punctuating the topic of marriage and dating and the pressure being thrown his way since he turned thirty while his friends are having babies, he talked about how apps like Tinder, Grinder and so many more have become the virtual hunting ground for the ‘ideal’ soul mate, and giving a new and redefined meaning to the conventional Indian ‘Arranged Marriage’ that is perceived in a ‘kitsch’ lens often across the border today. In an age where you can choose and then shortlist people based on all kinds of mind boggling parameters – caste, religion, hobbies, color of hair, eyes, skin, height, weight, even zip codes! (true story), pretty much find yourself a potential match on an app on your phone, technology is seamlessly bridging the gaps and bringing the degrees of separation down to almost zero. Arranged vs. Love marriage has now become a passé debate that has been replaced by much hype and increasing traffic to these dating sites, I suspect another major reason being it takes the edge and pressure off while allowing you to narrow down the search criteria as per your choice.

Then there are people like me – addicted to our TV shows and itching to watch the new episode the morning of the day it airs. The Online streaming market today is increasingly growing bigger and taking on the downloadable Torrent like sites. HBO Now is the highest grossing app today for Live Streaming for two consecutive months, leaving behind the likes of Hulu and Spotify. Whether you have an Android phone, Iphone or a tablet / Ipad, you can watch your show on a train or car journey whenever you want which was not possible a few years ago. For the not-so-tech savvy, Android’s Google Play and Iphone’s App Store are loaded with both free and paid apps in a catalog of genres and categories ranging from children’s games, news sites, travel, socializing, food, health, Alcohol, gardening just to name a few. (I just read about an app called Beer that allows you to text a beer buddy and just say ‘Beer?’ if you want to meet for a Beer!) From fastest growing apps like Shazam for identifying music, Snapchat whose daily traffic count crossed a whopping 5 million users in 2013 and today Uber, the taxi service that has taken the world by storm, not untainted  by the occasional controversy, of course, to even digital health apps using wearable technology like FitBit are revolutionising a ‘health geek’ or even a chronic patient’s ability and convenience of being able to track various parameters just through their smart phones. I read recently that Google is planning wifi hubs all over the USA and eventually worldwide, so soon we will be connected on every street corner or bus stop.

The market is enormous and the possibilities are limitless. Today every conceivable, even unimportant task is possible just by sitting on your couch and opening an app. The debate of course then is, how much of this ‘app-titude‘ is too much? As imperative as it is to be ‘with it’ in this tech bubble we live in today, there is also the debate of ‘how much tech is too much tech’ that is increasing taking shape and looming over our heads. From our previous generations who are in need of more tech knowledge to the youngest generation today that already needs to be cutting back, how can we ensure a ‘tech-life’ balance?

There is a rather important demographic that has found itself inadvertently stuck in the middle of the ‘tech gen’ debate today – Mothers! There is a growing debate today on the use of gadgets by children and how much is too much.  Schools are now adopting the use of Ipads and tablets to teach whereas at home we struggle with already addicted kids and have to snatch away the gadgets so they can concentrate on their dinner. But, I know of moms who find it easier to just let the child play that one last game while she feeds him and its really much quicker! ‘Whatever gets him to eat’, she says. This is an issue that I have had various conversations about with various people and the responses I hear are almost equally divided. While on the one hand parents are proud of their children who have learnt to use technology so early and they argue that schools are using them anyway,  others aren’t happy about it but throw in the towel and give in because either it stops an avoidable tantrum or ‘all the kids are doing it’. Ours was perhaps the last generation that wasn’t exposed to these gadgets almost as soon as we were born. Today a noisy toy isn’t enough to distract a child, but a Talking Tom does the trick. And we succumb to it for our own peace of mind.

However, like they say, ‘Too much of anything is bad.’ And while I am a staunch app user and supporter, and don’t yet have kids of my own, I firmly believe that our kids will and are being born in a world where exposure to technology is essential to an extent and inevitable. But, till they are the right age, we as parents need to set stronger boundaries at home and find other mediums of disciplining rather than taking the easy way out and letting an App have the upper hand. Living in Munich, I have observed and admired the focus on outdoor activity and physical exercise here that has seemed to almost become extinct in our countries where video and computer games are the chosen entertainment mediums. When we were younger, we used to look forward to those summer afternoon swim sessions or tennis classes and the odd cricket game in the field behind the house with neighborhood friends was not uncommon. Today, mothers are frantically fixing swimming lessons or tennis lessons so that their children don’t miss out on these important skills and extra-curriculars and aren’t only buried in Ipad games or TV shows.  We need to push our kids in that direction when they are young. They have the rest of their lives ahead to bury themselves in technology.

Having said that, I will sing a different tune for our earlier generations. Just like my father, all of us have parents and relatives who haven’t quite caught up with the tech fad yet and just explaining to them what an App Store is can be exhausting. Today I see this need for businessmen, writers, salesmen, doctors, lawyers of our preceding generations who struggle with that one thing to put themselves on the social media / world map and market themselves – how to use technology. And understandably, they lack the patience to learn and we lack the time and patience to teach. Being so used to quick action owing to apps and technology today, we lack the patience that our forefathers possess due to the lack of the very same technology – and this is something we forget. But, today every generation today needs to be in sync to fit in and progress in concert with the younger generations. Take the time to teach your family about that app store, that email feature, that online payment portal. And take the time to pull that Ipad away from your kids and send them out to play.

The ‘Tech-Life’ balance is just as important as the ‘Work-Life’ balance today for every generation. The key word being ‘Balance.’

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