Hello, how are you holding up today? It’s July already. We are still grounded, and still searching for ideas to combat boredom. And now TikTok just got banned in our country. So tell me, how are you holding up? I really want to know. But before you gather your thoughts to leave me a note in the comments section, here’s what I want you to know: We are what we consume. Our diet isn’t just what we eat but everything that nourishes us. We are the books we read, the movies/shows we watch, the music we listen to, the experiences we have, and even the people we surround ourselves with. So let’s make wise choices: ‘Oxygen Choices.’ Anything that depletes us should have no place in our lives. Forgive me for being so intense even within the few lines you have read so far. You see, I was born in the mid-seventies in a small town called Agartala in the north-eastern state of Tripura. If there’s anything that my upbringing has taught me, it’s that we are only as rich as the things we are made of. And the things mentioned above really matter. In them, true wealth and abundance reside. And there is no shortcut to acquiring them. You don’t have to agree with me. I understand how age, background, and choice vary. I also understand how they divide societies into often contrasting demographic and psychographic segments, and how profit-hungry capitalists monetize the division. I have a degree in Marketing Management, and although most subjects bored me to death, I topped my class in Consumer Behavior. Still, you don’t have to agree with me. But please scroll nevertheless. India is fresh from the ban on 59 Chinese apps following the military brutality at the Indo-China border in Ladakh. But the only ban that is creating major shock-waves is the one on TikTok. If you see the statistics below, you will know why. The data is 8 months old, but still fresh enough to help you understand.
I am not here to justify the ban, applaud it, or protest it. I am here to draw your attention to a widespread neurological disorder amongst young citizens of our country (and the world at large) that such apps have led to: Attention Deficit Disorder. Its symptoms are many. They include (but are not restricted to) inability to focus, lack of attention to detail, excessive talking, talking out of turn, inability to sit still (especially in calm or quiet surroundings), constantly fidgeting and misplacing things, and general self-focused behavior.
Here’s a first-hand experience I recently had.
A week before the lockdown, I had a 10 am meeting with the team that makes my music videos. Not wanting to combat Mumbai’s rush hour traffic, I booked an UberPool. When the cab arrived, I saw a young woman in the backseat moving her bag aside nervously to make room for me. I nodded politely and sat next to her even though the front seat wasn’t taken. Barely a minute into the ride, the woman took off her earphones and asked if I was an actor. I said, “Sometimes yes,” but that I am more of a singer. Her next question was if I had sung in Bollywood movies. I said no but that I did cover Bollywood songs from time to time. She then insisted that I tell her my full name so she could look me up on YouTube. And so I did. Over the course of the half-hour ride, the woman kept fidgeting with her earphones and asking me questions without realizing that she was getting in the way of my answers. At one point, she pressed her earphones with both hands and started watching my rendition of ‘Disco Deewane.’ But barely a minute into it, she paused the video to open WhatsApp. Once again, she took off her earphones… this time to tell me that her husband couldn’t believe that she was in a cab with me, “the guy in the red jacket,” from the video she had shared with him. I thanked her, asked her to thank her husband too, and mentioned the orphans my video was dedicated to. But she didn’t seem to care. Instead, she started looking for something she thought she had dropped. But just like that, she quit searching and started telling me about some other song she liked. When I asked her who it was by, she said she didn’t know and that she had heard it only on TikTok. Then she gave me her earphones to listen to it. To tell you the truth, I was trying to stay calm and composed for my 10 am meeting. But I didn’t want to be rude. Fortunately for me, her destination arrived within less than a minute.
The lady in my cab is a reflection of us all. You and me, we all suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. (Just that the severity varies.) That’s the price we have paid for progress. For smartphones, social media, and technology. Ask your parents (or better still, your grandparents) and they will tell you what I just did. We let go of our attention span years ago when we got addicted to updates on the internet. With time, the format of those updates changed to their present-day 1-minute videos and 15-second stories. And the severity of the disorder increased. It has already affected our conversations and could affect our relationships in a very detrimental way. So let’s not blame the lady in my cab. She was somewhat curious and interested, and overall… nice. I believe she was there simply to remind me of the greatest gift we can give to anybody: Time.
And time is what we now have more than we ever did before. A virus has put a ban on our lives. Maybe it’s here to remind us of everything we had taken for granted. But we will survive. Because we have fallen prey to cataclysms before, and are stronger in the places we are broken. And like the timing couldn’t get any better (or worse), the government of India has banned TikTok. But its users will survive too. Because this isn’t the first time the app has been banned in our country. The thing about life is, even at its worst, it still wants us to win. There can be no good without evil. We need both for balance. So maybe what we are going through collectively will restore our balance, and help each one of us reach a better version of ourselves. And maybe in that version, we will be more generous, compassionate, and appreciative of the gift of time. So let us take the lessons we have learned from these last several months and carry them with us when we walk into the future. It will serve us well.
One more thing.
Let us not be unkind to TikTokers. Our parents didn’t quite understand why we were upset when MySpace and Orkut went away. It’s alright for us not to understand why today’s youth is upset about the TikTok ban. If something that filled a large part of your everyday life disappeared unexpectedly and you had no control over it, you would be upset too. Careers, revenue streams, and connections have been affected. It is going to hurt. Maybe the pain will birth new passions. Maybe the new passions will fill our youth with everything that nourishes them. Art, poetry, music, cinema, and the company of their makers amongst other ‘essential items.’ And maybe then, they will learn to make wise choices: ‘Oxygen Choices.’ Because we are what we consume.
Not everyone will read this article right till the end. But here you are. Thank you for giving me so generously of your time. It’s a gift I appreciate more than my words can express because it's only people like you I write for. I will take just a wee bit longer before I let you go. Because I really want to know. So tell me, how are you holding up today?
Singer, Writer, Speaker, Actor