Like Earth Hour that's observed the world over to highlight the need to save energy, our homes too could have a tech-free zone, where we could simply meditate or introspect in peace, suggests Aparna Karthikeyan

When it's perfectly reasonable, in the interest of health, to expect smoke-free zones, why not a small tech-free zone in every home?

“So how on earth are we going to manage for a whole hour,” asked a worried mum, nervously twirling the stem of her wineglass. “Well, it's just 60 minutes, can't we just make do with some board games by candle light,” suggested another, optimistically. “Except my kids won't; sorry! When they're used to the thrill and the cracking pace of Nintendo, board games just won't do anymore!” argued the first, and the other mums agreed by nodding their heads vigorously and swiftly quaffing the wine.

This, by the by, was a conversation I overheard as a bunch of well-heeled, well-meaning mums prepared to ‘switch off' for the Earth Hour, just one hour without electricity and all that runs on ‘power'. And that, as I was quickly learning, was more than most kids could cope with, and I had horrific visions of the morning after when there would be seriously long queues of ‘traumatised, deprived' children in the shrinks' waiting rooms.

Then and now

You might wonder, at this point, if this is my cue to go off on a tangent, rambling on about the time when the world comfortably functioned by the dim, shaky pools of light thrown by flickering oil lamps, kids happily playing ‘Palaanguzhi' and ‘Paramapadham', and grandmothers thumping out more fiction on one rainy evening than Jeffery Archer has in his whole, prolific life! But, sorry to disappoint you, I won't. Because, as somebody as fond and excessively dependent on gadgets as the next person is, it would be hypocritical to talk of rolling back what clearly is progress. And yet, the conversation does raise questions — is it that difficult to spend a few thousand seconds (3600 to be precise) without gadgets?

To answer that honestly, you would have to walk in unannounced and mooch around the average well-wired household. It's quite safe to bet big bucks here that you will find a living/sitting room with an overwhelmingly large, flat TV (and in many cases, an additional one in every room) connected to sophisticated DVD players and a splendid selection of speakers; other rooms might be liberally littered with games consoles, and laptops/ tablets wedged in the soft folds of the sofa. Oh, and of course, most living/sleeping spaces will have access to something or the other that can play music and/or browse the web.

Discourage the addiction

Naturally, all this means that no sentient being is ever beyond two steps from something wired and digital, and can seamlessly make the transition from one digital ‘zone' to another. Now, doesn't that explain everything? Starting with the rationale behind kids vetting their friend's houses before accepting invitations for play dates (Do you have a Wii? Are you allowed to go on ‘Moshi Monsters'?), husbands and wives preferring to communicate on their Facebook walls and why Earth Hour sounds a lot easier on paper than in practice. It's this rampant addiction, we concluded, that must be targeted, and whittled down until it reaches more manageable proportions…

And to do that, all we propose is something simple, quite breathtakingly simple — a gadget-free zone in every household. Just one room, or if you can't stomach/spare that, a little space where all your precious gadgets are banned; a sanctum sanctorum, if you will, where your fingers do not itch to scroll those fiddly buttons or punch in 140 witty characters about your last meal. Oh, and we draw the line at that, and come up with no more preachy, cheesy suggestions (such as filling it with board games and books) for we do not view this as an alternative space, but merely one for quiet contemplation, where you can wrap yourself in silence, free from the omnipresent digital ‘noise'.

Think of it as a special space to recharge your batteries, where you can take a friend or relative and hold an uninterrupted conversation, un-distracted by blinking red lights announcing unread mails…. Go for it, we certainly think you won't regret it; and do flaunt your space, but remember that a tech-free shower cubicle or walk-in-closet don't actually count….

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Aparna KarthikeyanJune 28, 2012