The digital fence | Book Excerpt – The Art of Bitfulness: Keeping Calm in the Digital World by Nandan Nilekani & Tanuj Bhojwani

The Art of Bitfulness: Staying Calm in the Digital World by Nandan Nilekani and Tanuj Bhojwani

These excerpts introduce the reader to a book that is a call to make the most of our devices and their optimal use instead of a generalized digital detox.

About eight hours before his flight, Prabhkiran Singh received a text message from his friend telling him he was giving up on their vacation.

As CEO of a growing startup, Bewakoof, Prabhkiran often felt like he could never stop working. He had planned with a friend to spend a week’s vacation in Port Blair. He had booked plane tickets but had done little else to plan his vacation. Prabhkiran decided he still needed the break, so he sounded an alarm and texted his friend to say he was still going.

Port Blair is the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal, about 1400 kilometers from the Indian mainland. In August 2020, the Indian government completed the laying of an optical fiber between the islands and the mainland. This optical fiber has finally enabled 4G services and wired broadband on the islands. This means that if you landed there in 2017, like Prabhkiran had, you turned on your phone to find that you had no cellular data or Wi-Fi and therefore no internet access. .

Landing in a new place with no internet was strange and made Prabhkiran slightly nervous. He couldn’t search for hotels or make reservations online. He couldn’t consult a map to decide where to go or book a taxi to get there. He hadn’t even recorded music on his phone because he was used to the idea of ​​streaming music on demand. Prabhkiran admits that when he first realized there was no internet, he slightly regretted his decision to fly unprepared. But, over the next seven days, he had the best vacation of his life.

Instead of looking for things on his phone, Prabhkiran had to talk to people to get around. When he was bored, he couldn’t scroll through social media or check his emails. Once we arrived at the resort, not only was there no internet, but there was also no cell reception.

Most of the time, he didn’t even carry his phone with him. The best part was that everyone on the island was also offline. He found that people were more sociable and friendly. Strangers would join him for dinner and share stories of their travels. Prabhkiran took a book every time he went on vacation, but it was the first time he finished reading it. After a very long time, he felt present in the moment and at peace.

At the end of his island vacation, Prabhkiran realized that being unplugged wasn’t as scary as he had first imagined. He vowed to spend less time on his phone and more time in nature or with friends. He deleted social media apps from his phone. After returning to Mumbai, every day at 5:30 p.m. sharp, he left his phone on his desk and walked with a friend to Lake Powai to enjoy the sunset. He found himself less stressed and more in control of his day.

If this was a movie, this is where the story would have ended.

You probably know what happened next. For a few weeks, Prabhkiran still caught the sunset every day, but he started taking his phone with him. Eventually he stopped going. First one, then another; soon all social media apps came back. Work slowly began to eat away at his personal life, and Prabhkiran found himself exactly where he started: feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and still connected.

We all know this conflict. Our devices make our lives incredibly convenient, but at the same time they take away from the quality of our lives. However, it is impossible to disconnect. Prabhkiran, for example, would be unable to run his business without his smartphone. Even reducing screen time is very difficult. We may be able to do this for a few days or weeks, but eventually we all make a mistake and come back to where we started.

In an ideal world, our technology would be less distracting and we would be less easily distracted. However, we do not live in an ideal world. Our technology is addictive by design, and we are easily addicted by nature. Focusing on just one side of this problematic equation will tell an incomplete story. This book is an attempt to fix the relationship we have with our digital tools, looking at both sides of the equation.

We must begin by understanding how we have shaped our tools and how they, in turn, shape us.


Most of the tools and technologies we invented for much of human existence involved manipulating atoms and energy, amplifying the work our bodies could do. The steam engine, a fundamental invention of the industrial revolution, made it possible to transform heat into mechanical work. The information revolution had a different purpose. Computers could manipulate bits of information, magnifying what our brains could do.

More than forty years ago, in 1980, Steve Jobs called the personal computer the “mind’s bicycle”. Compared to the technology of 1980, today we have the equivalent of personal Formula 1 racing cars and 16-lane “broadband” highways to connect the whole world. There has been a ridiculous increase in the capacity, capacity and speed of information technology. They remain, however, a vehicle for our mind to augment the way we think and feel. In their purpose, therefore, little has changed.

Instead of seeing information technology as something outside of ourselves, we want to consider all aspects of information technology – our computers, smartphones, smart devices, the apps they contain and the data we access through them – like prostheses for our brains. Every time we use these technologies – search for something online, click a “like” button, pay on an e-commerce site, text a friend, or perform any other action – we generate a data trail. . This data track is the electronic manifestation of a thought that originated in our minds. Our data powers these information technologies, but it is not a new oil, it is our me naked.

Our devices, all the software that runs them and the data that powers them, are an extension of our minds.

Our extended minds support how we think, speak, and interact with the world. In the obvious sense, we connect with our friends through social media, instant messages or phone calls. In the less obvious sense, what we talk about offline is shaped by what we see online. Even in offline, face-to-face interactions, we pull out our phones to share photos, videos, or texts. Our expanded minds help us share what we see and experience, enriching our connection with others.

Even though we don’t call technology an extension of the mind, we can still feel it. Most of us would be hesitant to hand over our unlocked smartphones to others. The loss of privacy online makes us feel violated in real life. The simple fact of running out of charge on their smartphone worries most people. If you’ve lost a phone or a hard drive with personal data you didn’t back up, you know how heartbreaking it felt.

Over the past two decades, digital technologies have become part of every aspect of our lives. Our expanded minds are now an essential part of how we live, love, learn and earn. There’s a good reason for the growing influence of digital technology in our lives: they can often feel like superpowers.

Do you remember the first time you booked a taxi using a ridesharing app? For those of us old enough to remember the uncertainty of finding a taxi on the streets, apps like Meru, Uber or Ola were nothing short of magical. There is every reason to believe that the future will have more inventions that will improve our lives. Therefore, we are not advocating ways to disconnect or detox, but to return to the same issues in a few weeks as Prabhkiran.

We don’t want to avoid these superpowers. We want to avoid the kryptonite that comes with them. This book doesn’t see technology as something outside of ourselves that we need to minimize. Instead, we want to integrate technology into our lives to help us achieve what we want. The idea behind this book is not to spend less time on our devices.

The goal is to spend our time on our devices better.

Excerpted from The Art of Bitfulness: Keeping Calm in the Digital World by Nandan Nilekani & Tanuj Bhojwani, courtesy of Penguin Random House

The Art of Bitfulness: Staying Calm in the Digital World
Nandan Nilekani & Tanuj Bhojwani
Random penguin house
Pp 236, Rs 799

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