Let me begin by apologizing to Jhumpa Lahiri (if she ever reads this) for a sound-alike title, but I sure hope she cuts me some slack because imitation is the best form of flattery.
When a friend of mine asked her sweet Vietnamese masseuse for an eye pad while she was getting a massage, her response was, “me sorry – too espensive (sic) – we no carry”. Could Steve Jobs have asked for more? My own iWorld has some glorious moments. A few years ago, the three of us siblings gifted our parents an iPad each. When we see them in two different corners of a room playing solitaire or watching their favorite shows on the internet, we call it iHeaven. Recently our dad who never (I mean, never) loses his sleep over anything, lay awake all night because he was expectantly waiting for any one of us across the globe to see his email and call to congratulate him over his first online purchase ever, which happened to be a transatlantic flight to visit us. A day like that has to be a triumphant day for the forefathers of Internet! That night of victory, my dad waited patiently for my mom to twitch her eyelids for the first time at the crack of dawn to wake her up and make her call us to see if we had seen the email with the first online purchase of his entire life and tell him whether he did a good job or not. For some reason, he likes to make our mom call us even if he is the one who wants to talk to us. Our validation was extremely important to him because we taught our parents how to use the internet. Their grandchild who is now three, was born with an iPad in his hand and a preprogrammed brain that lets him navigate all our iGadgets, particularly the photos and videos with extreme precision. All of us in the family know his iHabits and iLikes and we have a menu of items on our devices that will distract him or quieten him at a given moment.
My work as a physician involves a fair amount of interactions with patients on what they found on the worldwide web before talking to me. I generally take that in my stride. Even my social interactions involve a fair amount of talking with friends and family who use the internet to diagnose and solve their medical complaints. When they call me, it’s usually to help with interpretation and troubleshooting. I love the internet for bringing knowledge into the open. It made knowledge accessible to anyone who wants to educate himself or herself. I’m confident that the good kind of knowledge will ultimately prevail over the bad kind of knowledge out there and the internet will cure all maladies, social, medical, and any other.
It’s the internet’s role as a creator of problems in my social life that I find really amusing. There’s digital snooping – when friends get together and catch up on common friends, the easiest thing is to get on their Facebook page and look up what’s going on in their lives. We don’t need to call them because it’s already there! Then there’s ‘phubbing’ – a special form of snubbing someone by taking the phone out of one’s pocket and begin checking email when the person is talking to you. During our vacation three years ago, we were at this Christmas Eve dinner in a hotel lobby. Our travel group had fifteen people and we were gathered by the fireplace. Every single person had a smartphone or a tablet in hand, and each person was immersed in his or her own world. I suppose it’s a good way to bring out some social honesty! We talk to each other when we want to talk to each other.
My most memorable experience with the nefarious virtual world was around the turn of the millennium. I had just moved from India to the US and suddenly, there was so much more access to the internet. My own internet browsing skills were pretty unsophisticated, but I was learning fast. In those days, it was my mom’s mission to find me a husband and the older of my two younger brothers was her partner in crime. One of the many nice men they sent me on a ‘matrimonial date’ with had told me he had his own personal website. That was one of the coolest things I had heard on such a date. I did not own a computer back then, and depended on generous friends who would let me use theirs. His website was pretty interesting and I was soon clicking on all the links he had listed as favorites. I started to think that I liked many of the things he liked and somehow all of a sudden found myself staring at a pornographic webpage in pure horror!! When I look back on that moment, I have a good idea how I must have got there, but in those days when I was pretty naïve and unsophisticated, that was my reason for telling my family why he is not the ‘suitable boy’ they wanted me to be with. I dread to think what my mom might have told his mom as to my reasons why I was ‘rejecting’ him. In those days, what was worse than going out on a blind date was having to explain what happened on the ‘date’ to my parents and give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. The boy’s parents and the girl’s parents ‘talk’ after their progeny meet! All I know now is that if I ever run into him, I will apologize to him instantly and profusely.
One of my psychiatry professors’ favorite questions on rounds used to be “what’s the difference between Xanax and love?” and the right answer was “Xanax is forever”! We can safely substitute Xanax with internet, and hopefully one of our presidential candidates learnt this lesson as well……