The Kingdom Of Paper

A Vision Of The World After A Digital Apocalypse

I’ve not learned how to draw; I’ve not learned how to draw; What if you die with all of the cameras?

— Lyrics from the song ‘How To Draw/Petrichor’ by 1975, A Brief Enquiry Into Online Relationships

As unlikely as it may be, indulge me and ask yourself this: how would our world look like if the internet shuts down tomorrow, our cable television doesnt work and we are forced to get rid of our smartphones. Instead, we end up using the phone as it was originally envisioned — to give us a reminder of distance between two loved ones and to talk while imagining what the face at the other end of the line may look like.

We return to an analog world where old school photos are our memories, the written word on a piece of paper our emotions and the absolute pleasure of spending more time with our loved ones our greatest indulgence.

When Steve Jobs was lying in the hospital, he was reminded of a simple truth — all of his money couldn’t buy him good health and the enjoyment of life that good health brings with it. This article uses a story to nudge you to understand that when all else is done, the most precious time we spend on this planet is with our loved ones. Therefore, in our hyperconnected world, the most beautiful crime is to steal time away from our digital devices and to spend it in the company of our loved ones- one less tweet, one less post and one less video at a time.

The Apocalypse So Far

The digital apocalypse, which was triggered by a hitherto unexplained event and has taken out the internet and cable television, hit the world simultaneously at 5 pm on a normal Wednesday evening.

The young children are ok with the apocalypse. Their lives will go on. At their age, they don’t know what narcissism is. At least consciously that is. They can go to school, play with their friends, study from old school books and play some more in the evening.

The teenagers are in shock- no more selfies, videos on TikTok, FaceTime with 30 friends and no more television shows. It’s like Macaulay Culkin slamming his fist in disgust in an imaginary version of Home Alone where the TV can no longer be his life. He has to put up with his irritating cousins and family. Worse still, he might have to play a never ending game of monopoly with them. The silver lining in the cloud is that some of the teenagers can meet ‘physically’ at a local coffee shop or the one in college. Some of them have to use old school bicycles to reach the coffee shop. It’s their way of minimizing the carbon footprint, exercising and enjoying the breeze dancing with their hair while admiring the foliage around.

The young adults are terrified that they have no way of knowing whether the stock markets are up or down. My single friends complain about the loss of potential dates on Tinder. Worse still, they have to rely on radio for news of the weather. Luckily, many people are secretly gloating that the advent of AI has stalled even if for a while. They won’t have to worry about their jobs taken away at least for the time being. They can actually live in the present.

The only people more happier on this planet are the elderly because they have lived in a digital free, real world before so it’s a beautiful chance for them to adjust to this new old golden age. Their sons, daughters and teenage grandchildren will have to spend more quality time with them. The elderly are only afraid they will to have find new stories to tell them because their children always complain that they have the same old stories. They don’t realize that when their old parents repeat the same stories- that repetition is a way of reconciling with their past, putting to bed old demons and acquiring bliss before they meet the inevitable. However, not all elderly people are the same. Some of them are rockstars and are enjoying a healthy laugh because their way of life was riding a motorcycle in the sunset.

Surviving And Thriving In The Apocalypse

Meanwhile, a day later, this is how my life goes:

630 AM Friday Morning: An analog mahogany alarm clock gifted to me by my dad wakes me up. The clock looks like a John Thwaites creation out of 19th century London. The smell of the wood reminds me of two things simultaneously-the happiness is small things and deforestation. I start thinking of using recycled paper. I get up, brush my teeth, floss and listen to old songs on a radio.

7AM: I meditate for 15 minutes and perform ‘pranayam’ yoga for another 10 to focus my mind. This puts me in a zone to plan out the rest of my day.

730AM: luckily, there are no angry talk show hosts or business news channel hosts shouting at the top of their lungs about some controversy with a panel of ‘experts’ (that I can’t make out was a true controversy in the first place or whether it had anything to do with my life) or about how the markets are ‘signaling’ the next recession and he chooses 5 stocks that ‘appear’ undervalued but he can’t say for sure in either case. It is just an educated guess-one step away from pure speculation. So, I rely on government run (public) broadcast on radio and the old school newspaper to get my news. I don’t get all the news but I wonder if I am more happy that way. I furiously make my To-Do list using pen and paper.

8AM: My parents and I sit for a peaceful breakfast. My mother is a stickler for organic food. I tell I hate the word ‘organic’ as much as I hate the word ‘diversity’. I tell her both should be a given and a natural order of things and not some neo-elitist goal everyone should aspire to. We should eat what Mother Nature provides us and treat people the way we want to be treated. Wouldn’t I be ‘naturally’ angry if my sister doesn’t get equal pay if she does the same work of equal quality. In turn, my mother tells me I sound like a politician and speeches are better on a podium. She adds that even though we take things like equality, diversity and freedom as basic needs, we have to fight for them everyday otherwise it’s easy to slide backwards. On the breakfast table, she says she wants me to ask my best friend at work a more important question: when is he getting married? I assure her, laughingly, I will try.

I ask my dad for a new alarm clock and he says the mahogany one is a symbol of my grandfathers illustrious past. He reminds me of the importance of tradition. He also advises me that should the digital apocalypse end, I shouldn’t change my behavior. I should empathize with people and listen to their stories patiently. He ends by saying something very philosophical not unlike the words many parents say. He says every animal lives for itself but you should try to live for others. My mom smiles and nods in agreement. Like everyone on earth, I feel blessed because of the family I have. They are my true wealth.

830 AM: I meet up with my carpool buddies who have decided to pool our cab while commuting to office and burn less fossil fuel. The real reason, as I understand, is that men love to gossip especially when our female colleague is not carpooling with us that morning. This kind of hypocrisy reminds me how badly we have stereotyped women when men are equally and sometimes more guilty of chatting about workplace romances and salary raises.

915 AM: I am an auditor in a public firm so I start my day talking to my client about the process we will be reviewing or auditing today. He tells me he has informed all his staff to be ready for the review. He complains about the heat and humidity. ‘Perhaps, it’s global warming’, he says. I tell him it’s no laughing matter.

My day passes rather uneventfully. A dabawallah (member of a local tiffin delivery service that delivers tiffins to office and is a worldwide phenomenon because it is six sigma certified) delivers my lunch. They remind me that necessity can bring out innovation in places with scarcity of resources. It also reminds me that I should listen patiently to all ideas. Some of the best ideas may come from the least expected people.

3PM: I have to call my banks contact center to find out my balance, my investments and ask them for a printout of my balances. Yet again, I feel guilty at wasting paper. I decide to ask for my statements less frequently. The contact center agent tells me the bank may charge me for not maintaining my ‘average quarterly balance’. So, I start wondering of other people who are not included in the financial system. Perhaps, we can lower the barriers for entry. As a common man, I feel helpless.

530 PM: I wrap up my work and meet my cab buddies to get a download of the days events. When I reach home, my best friend calls me on my landline and informs me about a plan to meet later in the evening to play gully (street) cricket. He reminds me to bring my own equipment and headgear.

7PM: a bunch of school and college friends are excited and decide to play night cricket on the streets. This terrifies the people living on the first floor of the buildings lining the street lest a stray ball smash their windows. As we embark on the rather emotionally charged process of drawing out players and drafting them into one of two teams, I know I will be picked last. I have no expertise in batting, bowling or fielding. I am afraid they might just make me an umpire until my best friend shows up. He doesn’t want me to miss playing so he volunteers to be an umpire. He winks at me which means I owe him coffee and breakfast at his favorite restaurant. As we start playing, I realize we have become children again. Besides the thought of crushing the opposition by scoring more runs or bowling them out, our eyes don’t see the difference between sex, religion, caste or color. We are two teams drenched in the spirit of sport watching the world with eyes of children-an innocence that is not biased by stupid man made divisions. At that moment, Rachel, my college buddy, is batting and trying to hit the ball for a six. Candidly, she is better at batting than I can ever be.

The Day Ends As It Always Does

Technology has invariably made our lives easier. It is not technology itself but it’s misuse and abuse that makes our lives miserable. My piece of fiction is to remind you of the time slipping away as our faces lie buried in out smartphones incessantly. TV news reminds us that the world is burning even when it is not so bad. We lose our imagination, wonder and zest for life by confining our thoughts to what we consume on the internet and television. We have forgotten the bounty of nature that surrounds us. We have also forgotten to live in the present chasing what we have ingloriously labeled ‘FOMO’. There is no such thing if you are at bliss with the present.

Notice how many times I mentioned paper as a symbol of a less digital world as well a reminder of our finite and easily destructible time on earth. Our life is a kingdom of paper which gets etched with memories and burns slowly until the fire of death consumes both the paper and the memories in them. In the meantime, let those memories be made up of more time spent with our loved ones in happiness and in grief. Always together.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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