• Mohana Prabhakar

The day Google became a verb

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

It seems to me that every device connected to the Internet these days is automatically set up to be intrusive and to somehow get you to share. There I am reading an update on the recent earthquake in Japan and what pops up on one side of my screen is ‘new arrivals at mytheresa.com’. I look up one destination on Booking.com and I am bombarded with e-mails saying, ‘Mohana, Alloa is calling your name’, etc.

I used to try clearing my cookie cache, but like the zombies in World War Z, they keep coming. And I, (unlike Brad Pitt), have given up that unequal fight.

You actually need to be very tech-savvy to manipulate the settings on your smartphones and tablets, because the default setting is more about sharing rather than protecting. I am not talking about bank account details or inappropriate pictures that plague the rich and famous, but just regular, everyday stuff.

Last week I sent my doctor an SMS asking to see him, not having been able to get through on the traditional channels. No reply, that day, or the next, or even two days later. He’s normally prompt, so it puzzled me, but I left it thinking he was busy. A few days later, my son says there was a strange message on his phone about an appointment that had come a while back. Somehow this doctor, who I am not even sure knows I have a son, had sent him the message meant for me.

So this is today’s ‘sharing’ technology. I have my iMessage disabled, my son doesn't. Effect: My messages are going to him because we share an Apple ID on the App Store to share games. The same thing can happen with FaceTime – but wait, you aren’t allowed to use FaceTime in Oman, so no problem there.

This world of sharing by default makes me a bit uncomfortable. You know how the FBI always finds the killer by triangulating his cell phone signal? You and I can do the same and we don’t need three cell towers to ping. All we need is one of these three: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to know who’s where and doing what.

Yet irrespective of my privacy concerns, issues about over-sharing and all the other odd stuff that happens on the Net, I don’t want to live without some form of connectivity. I love the fact that I found friends from school and college after 25 years, scattered between Kolkata and Alice Springs. I love the fact that when my mom asks me to describe the sari I am wearing, I can just send her the picture on WhatsApp.

When you talk about time spent on phones/social media, I think there is very little difference now between a 14 year old girl and her 40 year old mother. The difference lies in the pace of adopting new channels of communication.

But that’s really it. It’s hardly just the young who are using their phones or the Internet excessively. There are as many 40 and 50 year olds taking selfies looking like goldfish (the ‘duckface’ disease) as are teenagers. People my age are as inextricably tied to their iPhones and iPads as their children.

Look around at airports, coffee shops, even restaurants – everyone has a smartphone and everyone will use it at some point for something besides taking a call or making one. The day Google became a verb, you had to know your life had changed forever.

However, the only time I will admit to an age-divide is when it comes to acronyms. I am horribly old-school and spell everything out. I can’t imagine doing a ‘c u’, so you know how bad I am. But there’s one I just learnt that beats everything else hands down and one that my son impolitely suggested could apply to my columns. ‘tl;dr’ and please note the incongruity of a semicolon in there. For people my age, it translates to ‘too long; didn’t read’.

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