by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Our dependency on smartphones is such that we scarcely even realise it.
The wake-up call for me came last week, when I was trying to find my way from Vin Uni to Vinhome Riverside in Long Biên District [Hà Nội] to fetch my daughter from her friend’s home.
It’s only about 7 km or so, but I have a new smartphone and the battery was somehow down to only 1 per cent. Halfway there, the phone died.
My daughter had called me on a strange number to tell me where to pick her up, because her phone had also died.
I looked ahead. It was a new stretch of road, in the middle of nowhere, so stopping and asking a xe ôm [motorbike taxi] driver or anyone else for directions wasn’t really an option.
And I realised, not for the first time, just how dependent I was on my phone and how much of my day it takes up.
In the morning, a phone alarm gets my day started. Almost before my feet hit the floor, I’ve checked for messages on Zalo, Viber, Messenger, and good ole SMS. Then, last but not least, Facebook.
The morning routine finishes with some music, because it’s right at my fingertips so why not?
At work, the phone has a rest and the computer becomes where most messages are sent and received.
Lunch can be ordered with a couple of clicks, and dinner and whatever else you may need with a few taps once you’re back home.
You can pay the rent, school fees, and power and water bills on your phone. You can take a whole load of photos, of family or food or something else “important”, because the phone is almost always in your hand. Your phone has it all, and is the be-all and end-all.
Just this morning, my daughter couldn’t find her phone as we were almost out the front door. Chaos ensued. There was actually talk about whether this meant she could spend the day at home rather than making it through a day at school without her phone.
I did, of course, sympathise. A day without my own phone is near-on unimaginable, as it tells me what I have to do and when I have to do it.
And so, as we searched and she started to ask if I knew what her day looked like, I felt flattered. It was a rare moment when I knew she would hang on my every word. It was nice, as though some level of parental authority was being exerted.
But without her phone, her day was a mess. Did she have an after-school dance class? Was she still meeting her boyfriend later on? How was she going to get a Grab ride home?
For the dance class, I said, as my mind ticked over, you’ll just have to show up and see. Check with the boyfriend on someone else’s phone, and find a xe ôm when it’s time to come home or, heaven forbid, walk.
Yes, it can be done!
Try to get by without your phone for a day, and you might just find a little freedom you didn’t even know you didn’t have. It’s hard to put the phone away, sure. But when it’s not there, you can’t even be tempted.
Of all the working professionals in Việt Nam I’ve met through my work, only one - Lady Borton - doesn’t use a mobile phone. An American author and humanitarian, she instead spends her time on serious writing and research, or maybe cooking bánh chưng - a special lunar new year treat.
She does, though, keep in touch with friends via email. I wish I could limit my online contact to just that.
For now, I’ll continue to rely on my phone for arranging my day, week and month. Perhaps I’ll set up a meeting on a remote island in Hạ Long Bay, where the phone signal is weak at best and where a phone is next to useless. VNS