WHEN I was first asked to write for this blog, I tossed around a few themes. And then, as one who has crossed over from the always-waiting-in-a-queue world of the rotary-dial black telephone to on-demand-video-streaming handheld devices, I figured it was best to connect the virtual with the real.

So, here goes…

In July 2017, Facebook announced that the number of users it had in India had surpassed those in the US: with 240million Indians liking, sharing, commenting on the largest social media platform, this means that one in every six among us is detached from real life. Or, the equivalent of the population of Indonesia.

Another report by App Annie, quoted in The Times of India confirms what we probably know: Indians spent 2.5 hours a day on apps in the first three months of 2017, higher than the 2 hours they spent during the same period in 2016.” Globally, people spent one trillion hours on some app or the other.

And with YouTube being the magnet in most countries, smartphone users are probably hooked to videos all day.

Now, Reliance Jio signed up 80million subscribers (roughly the population of Germany) between September 2016 and April 2017. And, in the same period, India’s GDP growth rate fell from 7.9% in July 2016 to 5.7% in July this year. But since I’m the only one connecting the two, this is probably just a coincidence. Probably.

However, if we’re spending more time surfing the virtual world instead of doing real work, where do you think we’re headed? While economists will blame demonetisation and GST for the slowdown, the fact is that increased data speeds and lower tariffs are driving the average Indian away from all the real stuff we used to do earlier, making us less productive as a nation. Joblessness (and being cashless) hasn’t helped either.

Behavioural economists will confirm that society is increasingly becoming individualised, inactive and polarised. We check our friends’ profiles and get away by posting a ‘like’ instead of calling up and wishing someone “happy birthday”.

Emoticons for all occasions have made detachment a virtue and, like the Pied Piper’s children, we blindly follow what’s trending.

So, the fact that someone may have expressed anguish at a flood, or anger at a journalist’s death, becomes an easy – and perfectly acceptable – substitute for actually doing something about it. A WhatsApp message replaces the physical act of going across and socially meeting someone. Why, even a beggar seeking alms on the road is ignored because the once-giver has now given himself up to obliviously watching a comedy show on his phone!

To top it all, we Indians refuse to pay for stuff online: movies, music and even books are supposed to be our birth right in the digital world. We’d rather steal than shell out a few rupees.

Is this why we’re reluctant to give money for a cause?

Historically, the majority of those who can give have shied away from giving on some pretext or the other. This can range from the blatant untruth of “I’ve already given” to the facile “What difference will my measly contribution make?” At the same time, the minority who do donate have done so because their heart commands their head and because this action then sets off a chain of influencing impetuses that encourage others to give.

But, enter smartphones and all this starts to fall apart. Or, does it?

If it weren’t for phones, our e-commerce stores would have gone out of business months ago. There are millions of people buying all kinds of stuff – from lingerie to ladyfingers – via their phones and are perfectly happy to pay online.

So, why is it that we hesitate to give money for a charity through a website? Is it because we don’t receive anything tangible in the courier or as a download?

Is it because we don’t know if our money’s actually reaching the intended recipient and helping her/him?

Or, is it because we’re plain lazy and won’t pick up that same smartphone to call Small Change and ask a simple question, “How do I know my money won’t go into a black hole?”

Perhaps it’s time to take a break from spending time on inane likes and dislikes and make the time to doing something real.

And that’s where small steps can make a big difference: imagine you’re investing in a mutual fund where even ₹500 every month can get you a reward. Not into your bank account, but deep within yourself. Admittedly, we’re a land of many problems and you don’t know where to begin…which is where Small Change fits in beautifully.

Choose the issue that you connect with at a gut level: Education, the Girl Child, Animal Welfare, Disability or any of the other neatly-categorised causes thirsting for your support. Make your smartphone do something good… cut back on a movie ticket, a beer, a new t-shirt or phone cover and help someone in real life.

It’ll be a small change in your behaviour as you cross over. But a huge one in someone else’s life.

Try it, you’ll like it. Really.

Mohit HiraOnce petrified of computers, Mohit Hira is now a digital strategy consultant who meandered through advertising, publishing and marketing. His near-permanent frown masks a sense of humour that makes him curate funny stories at airports where he seems to spend more time than at his home in Gurgaon. 


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