This is rare. When we sat around the dinner table, it was not my husband and I who stared at the phone screen. It was mum and dad. They have been at it — messaging every one, from the distant cousin in Canada to their granddaughter in India. The other day, when their friend’s son got married in India, they watched the event on their phone because the wedding was being streamed live. I don’t know when it happened, but smartphones have become their constant companion in their old age.
When dad was introduced to smartphones last year, he was hesitant. Mum was not even interested. But, when mum had to travel to India alone, we grabbed the opportunity to lure her into smart telephony. We figured that would be the best way to reach her. So, we sat her down on the day of her flight and taught her everything about using the phone. It was a crash course and she quite hated it. She swore she wouldn’t get sucked into the world of social networking.
“It is too complicated,” she said, “I cannot handle this.”.
We coaxed her and hoped that she would send us a WhatsApp message after reaching India. After an entire day, a message finally arrived on our phone, which had us elated. Mum had crossed her first digital milestone. When mum was figuring out how to use her phone in India, dad got busy too in Dubai. He soon learnt how to send media files on WhatsApp and that thrilled him.
In two days time, we saw dad send ‘digital roses’ to mum on WhatsApp. We thought it was ‘cute’. Cute it was, but what turned out to be ‘cuter’ was when they both began to chat. That had us sit up and take notice — mum was learning at a furious pace!
What happened next bowled us over. After a week into digital socialising, mum created ‘My family’, a WhatsApp group chat for the family. She included her sons, daughters and their respective spouses. We were now connected on WhatsApp as a family. Soon, she started posting pictures, videos, audio files and a whole lot of messages in the group. As we grappled with the internet storm created by mum and dad, one thing was certain — the digital bug had bitten them both.
Today, smartphone ownership has influenced their lifestyle greatly. For one, they carry their phones everywhere they go. They take pictures and share it in ‘My family’. When dad gets a picture from a family member, mum doesn’t walk up to dad to see the image; he just forwards it. I receive many ‘forwarded’ messages even though we are all one call away — living in the same house. On a rare occasion, they tell me (in person) about the fantastic message they received.
I think mum and dad have come to love social media and internet telephony. As I watch the two of them — their gaze stuck on the phone screen even as they watch their favourite television series, I smile. It feels like watching kids hover over a video game.
More importantly, I guess, when, people get old, one of the things that keeps them going is the knowledge of how many people actually care for them. I am sure it feels great to know that they have friends and family who matter. Smart phones probably help them to digitally surround themselves with all those they love. Most of all, it makes them feel secure.
Dad and mum now never miss being with anyone and they both are in touch with their near and extended family moreso than they have ever been. The most important factor is that smartphones have made them feel a little less homesick. That, I think, is very telling.
— Sudha Subramanian is a Dubai-based author and freelance writer.