A small girl wearing yellow dress walking over cat marks in cement

[Photo by Hugues de BUYER-MIMEURE on Unsplash]

(with inputs from Nandita)

Here’s a thought experiment: would you prefer talking to someone every day just over text chat or would you rather meet them once a week for an hour? What if instead of a week, you only met once a month – would that change your answer?


Focus

Digital experiences are highly susceptive to distractions. Smartphones are the undoubted champion of internet access in every Indian home. However, their mere presence reduces available cognitive capacity. Social media is a treadmill for our thumbs that make their platform owners money while we feel get more anxious (and a little bit lonely) with each scroll. Scrolling through posts isn’t an exercise for the mind, it’s a blur.

What isn’t a blur is a phone conversation. In this day and age, a phone call from a friend can be a refreshing change.

Physical

Phone calls are dead. JIO launched publically in 2016 offering unlimited voice calls and SMS, knowing that what we’re really limited by is our usage patterns.

A phone call isn’t a digital experience. The technology has existed decades before the digital revolution and the analog technology is quite the opposite of anything digital. So, what makes a phone conversation feel so good?

When it is suggested that we have more physical experiences in life, can a phone call be qualified as one? - Well, quite not.

As per one definition, experience is “the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation”. Let us limit ourselves to participation involving two people. What is a physical experience? We could define it as an experience where the physical space - the physicality of things and people - has a dominant role to play.

When you meet a friend, you’re both occupying the same physical space. You’re both there. When you’re talking on the phone, the space occupied by both of you is different. So it cannot be a physical experience. Prepare for the facepalm. There aren’t just two types of experiences – physical or digital.

Senses

We all have five basic senses. A phone call stimulates one – our sense of hearing. So, a phone call is an auditory experience. A Skype call can be both an auditory and visual experience alongside being a digital one.

The point isn’t to categorize and label everything. When it comes to your senses, identifying the ones you value more – and then optimizing for them is enough. This act could be directly proportional to the level of fulfilment in life. For me, talking on phone is a more fulfilling experience than having a textual conversation.

Skype conversations are wonderful but you still see notifications – the preferred choice - to distract you mid-call. On a phone call, the very playground of distraction, the screen, is turned black by the proximity sensors, unable to deliver overwhelming and confusing information through your eyes.

Rareness

Screens hypnotize our eyes – they rarely stimulate our ears. The voice of a friend is an event that stimulates and tickles our auditory craving. An experience that stimulates our dormant senses will be valued over the ones we have normalized due to their common occurrence. How come hearing the voice of a friend isn’t a normal occurrence?

Rarity is valuable – ask the gold traders. Adventure sports fill us with adrenaline that usually never happens on an Instagram feed. Coming back to your parent’s house may not mean a thing, while meeting them after a month may mean everything.

What’s an experience that’s so rare that when it happens, it’s an event in your life? Chase that.

Access

Hyper-connectness: live streams, Instagram stories, re-telling of incidences as they happen to you, so close that you don’t have time to process them yourself. Maybe someone on Instagram will help.

Share as your experience, process maybe later. You’re someone who is always just a click away when you heart posts at odd hours - when you post so often - when you reply in an instant.

Limiting access creates distance, which breeds rarity. Does it make sense to cut back on my digital availability to improve the quality of my experience, when I do take the social stage?

Delay

A text message sent through a digital platform will make its way to your phone instantly. It will not wait for you to mark yourself available first. It arrives and announces itself, now you do what you want with that knowledge.

Over a week, making mental notes of things in preparation for interesting discussion points in a meet with a friend is different. You are showing consideration for the other person by not texting them as you think these thoughts. You hold off till it’s time.

You are respecting their time by delaying your conversation starters to after they have signalled themselves ready. And perhaps abandon them if you sense the mood going elsewhere.

Conclusion

  1. Distracted experiences are poor experiences, which often make digital ones a blur.
  2. If you have an experience that’s so rare that it’s like an event in your life, you should have it more. Corollary: Optimize your life for the stimulus you value.
  3. If you’re left unsatisfied due to being too connected, add some distance – in your responses and in the frequency of your online social media check-ups.
  4. There is progress to be made by social apps in being considerate of our time and sometimes refusing to let us in – holding off till it’s time.

How many digital experiences make up for a physical one? The answer is none.