Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Mobile by default

A headache in the pocket: Why i love my gmail !

First of all, the disclaimer:
Any Resemblance to Actual Events or Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental.



A few months back, my doctor shared one 'experience' with me. He started having chest pain and went for a check up. In an era, when even a patient with a running nose is also asked to go for full body MRI, my doctor (in his unfamiliar position on the other side of the fence) was also asked to some tests. A week later, doctors couldn't find out what is causing the chest pain. Then he met a smart cookie, who asked him what is kept in the shirt pocket. Then the bulb lit up like we see in Tintin comics....Eureka!!! He was keeping his mobile in his shirt pocket!
My Doctor stopped keeping his mobile phone anywhere near his chest and the pain vanished like "select-all-delete" in Photoshop!
And everyone lived happily ever after!

Cut to:
Yours truly, an avid nokia user and mobile phone lover, experienced a bit of a headache. And came across a few emails by Prof Girish from IIT B about the health risks of mobile phones on the human body.
I reduced talk time on my mobile phone from 60 minutes a day to 10 minutes a day.
My headache also went for a 'select-all-delete' !

This set me thinking about the "default" setting in our minds about how we use mobile phones.


Once the phone got liberated from the wires and started travelling everywhere with each one of us, personal space is vanishing. Everyone has access to everyone's personal space and it is 24 x 7!!. Irrespective of whatever the recipient is doing and where he is, the phone is going to shout and announce an incoming call (of course, we have the option of using the silent mode).


Most of us check emails atleast 5 times in a typical working day, between 9.00 to 5.00.
I realised that 90% of our mobile calls can be avoided if both the parties are having plenty of (and free) access to the internet.
If one person doesn't have access to the wild world web, there is SMS. I love the SMS option because the phone will not ring when you are driving or jumping into a bombay local train, crossing the dangerous main gate road in front of IIT or taking a class. The SMS gives a better clear picture of the purpose of communication and the most important thing is that the recipient can read the message as per convenience.

Today, I fell into this trap of "default" setting. I was flipping through my diary and realised that today is my close friend's birthday. Without thinking about anything, on the spur of the moment, I called him on his mobile. Poor friend, he took the call and said "I am driving, will call back...".
Then I realised that in the brain vs heart battle, my emotional self got the better of the logical self and made the call ! Maybe, an SMS saying Happy Birthday might be enough. I don't think a real friend will feel bad that I didn't make a personal call for a birthday!


When you get a call on the mobile, you don't have the time to "mentally prepare" for a conversation. In the case of SMS, I get all the time in the world to "mentally prepare" for tackling the message. Sometimes, I have predictable communication requests from friends.
There are people who call at the most inconvenient timings (like a working day 11.00am when there is a 99% chance that every working man is busy with official duties...........or on sunday at 2.00 pm when every human being on earth will be enjoying a siesta!) just to ask "How are You".
I really appreciate the concern...but I hate the timings!

Last few months, I was looking at the purpose behind calls I get on my mobile phone.
1. Courtesy calls: To ask "How are you?"...these can come at anytime the caller finds convenient. The recipient's convenience is never thought about. Recently I had to write a very bad mail to a friend who loves to call at 11.30 pm and 6.00 am. Thank god there is a "silent" mode in my handset!

2. To wish me "Happy Onam" personally. If you are roaming, you pay for incoming calls and god save you!

3. Asking the telephone number of common friends.

4. To add one more role to my already stressed out life: To make me play Agony Aunt (or uncle). They take out their problems one by one......I listen with patience and bite hard...think of god...yes he is there.....then visualise all the divine icons...test the patience again and again.
Yes it is there intact. Meditation really helps.

5. To save on recruiting agencies. Everyone in publishing wants to find a "designer".... " or my ex- student" who should be not only very very good at work, but who will work for the cheapest salary (or free). I stopped this free service long time back!

6. From telemarketing jerks offering life insurance and car loans.

Now I feel that most of these communication problems can be solved in email or SMS. Dialling on a mobile phone has become a way of life for many people. Like a 'default' setting. I wonder if we ever think about the person who is receiving the call. Will he be free when we are calling? Is it the right time? Is it important to make this call? Can the purpose of the call be solved using an SMS or email?


What about health hazards of mobile phones? Recently, I read about the extremely dangerous health problems faced by people staying in buildings which host the mobile transmission towers. Those who are in the top floors face a real danger due to radiation from the high power transmission towers.
There is no concrete evidence (or published evidence!) on the hazards of mobile phones on the human body, especially for those of us who use the phone close to the ear.
Even if there is scientific proof that mobile phones are bad for our health, that news will never appear in any newspaper! Which newspaper wants to sacrifice crores of advertising revenue from the mobile companies and service providers?
Long live the zoozoo!

Now for the flip side. Mobile devices empower us to stay connected when we are driving, in a train, on top of a hill, in a boat, in a hospital......wherever we are!
In case of an emergency, it is a wonderful tool to find out if our dear and near ones are safe.
For those who need help in an emergency, can contact family and friends very fast.



So my friends, please use more email and sms and give your mobile a holiday!

Good bye Nokia, Welcome Gmail!



But I still love the zoozoo ads:-)

Story of a WIV

Recently I learned a very valuable lesson on the value of time. I happened to read a letter written by Dr. Sunil, an NRI, a classmate and friend of my brother.

Dear Dr. ......,
I would like to document some of the ayurvedic recipes developed by my grandmother for common medical problems. She has done a considerable amount of work in the area of natural medicine and handed over all the data to my mother. I would like you to discuss this with my mother in detail and work on a project to make a documentary film on this topic. Please give me the details of time required, total cost etc.
I am enclosing a demand draft of $ .............. for your valuable time needed at this initial stage of the project. Please let me know the time required there to encash this so that I can plan all future payments according to that.



This letter, dated some time in 2003, showed a very serious acknowledgment of the time taken by a person to finish a task. Dr. Sunil later told me that it is a way of life in USA, that they pay for whatever amount of time taken from others.
And even for social visits, he calls up and discusses the time slot convenient for both the parties!


Last month, I had a very sad experience-got one WIV (walk-in-visitor).
I was in M.S. University, Baroda and got a call from an old friend, who was keen on pursuing "research" in IDC.
"Where are you" I asked.
"In front of your cabin" - he said!
That was a shock!
He had come to IDC from a far away city without informing me!.
It was his first visit to IDC and had hundred questions.......whom to meet? where to stay? what to do ?

He didn't have any reason for dropping in without informing. I thought you will be in your room, he said!
Email, mobile phone, landphone, SMS, post office.......no mode of communication was useful here!

I am observing the trend now...About 90% of visitors I get are WIVs! The sad part of this trend is that I have missed meeting so many of my great friends because of this reluctance to inform in advance about a visit!

Maybe, the fact that I am in an academic institution might be playing in their minds...a kind of misunderstanding that a teacher will always be inside the dept and hence no need to fix a meeting! How cruel is that?

After that, I am very very careful about meeting people. I stopped going to anybody's cabin as a "walk-in-visitor". I try my best to call the person I want to meet and fix up a convenient time.
It is a very good idea to respect other people's time.

It is very very important to fix up a time slot to meet anyone, even your closest friend.
Most of us chalk out a list of things to do in a day and most of the tasks will have a deadline. What happens when there is an unexpected guest who takes half an hour from you? All other tasks get postponed by half and hour or some tasks are postponed to the next day!

The important lesson here is that the WIVs will never take responsibilty for problems created by our failure or delay in finishing our work.

Recently, I had a very serious issue with a chronic WIV who walks in to every cabin in the office and spends min 45 minutes in meaningless time pass conversation. He made sure no one can do any serious creative work in the office space! People who had to do any serious work had to go out and sit in other spaces to avoid this WIV!
Now cabins of many staff members are always empty, in fear of the WIV!

I have a friend, Mr. Sethu Das, the commander in Chief of "Friend of Tibet" organisation. He recently decided to spend half a day with me at IDC to discuss some issues on graphic design. The meeting was finalised one month in advance through email and he kept his time like a true perfectionist. It was one of the most memorable design discussions I have ever had, enlightening on both sides! Because of the advance notice, I could keep the entire time free of any disturbances and was totally relaxed.

A lesson for all of us.
Time is very very valuable, mine as well as yours.