Smartphones full of secrets – Khaleej Times


Through the lens, lightly

Published: Thu 3 Feb 2022, 11:35 PM

I know someone who used to be part of my team in Khaleej Times. He’s moved to Goa now, in search of susegad — the quiet, relaxed life — away from the rat race and its accompanying pings. While he lived in Dubai, whenever there was a dinner gathering at his place (he’s a great cook and would rustle up full-course meals himself), he’d insist all guests drop that offending object called a smartphone into a small basket near the entrance. “What’s the point of calling friends — or family — over if everyone ends up hunched up around the phone, checking emails, messages, notifications and what have you?” he’d argue passionately. I have been to his place quite a few times, and, each time, I had to do the drill myself.

Last weekend, I watched a movie that made me ponder over a “what if?” situation to that dinner party scenario: what if — as a sidetrack from the usual routine — my former team member had insisted on all guests’ phones being kept in the middle of the dining table? And then making them public property: allowing everyone assembled access to everyone else’s private data?

What would happen?

Would all hell break loose?

This movie, a French one — a retread of an Italian version (there’s now also an Arabic edition, currently trending on Netflix) — is titled Nothing To Hide. Three couples and a newly-single friend — seven in all — gather over dinner on a night that’s about to witness a full lunar eclipse (apparently, “strange things” happen on such nights). One of them suggests a no-holds-barred, “we-have-nothing-to-hide” game of putting their private alter egos — phones — in the public domain and the rest are literally cornered into falling in line.

Predictably, all hell does break loose, as ‘secrets’ from their lives are revealed resulting in irrevocable damage.

The alternative narrative was: what if the phones were not placed in the middle of the table, and the secrets had remained secrets? Then, everyone would have continued leading their secret lives

Our phones have become our confidantes and sounding boards. They contain stuff — and maybe even intimations from contacts — we wouldn’t want others to know. Would relationships and friendships last if everyone in our eco-system actually knew what we were hiding from the world — and dealing with only on our phones?

I guess that’s the reason why most of us have passcodes on our phones (mine, I was told by iOS, is too “easy to guess” so would I want to reconsider it? I didn’t… maybe I like living dangerously). There are those who claim they have “nothing to hide” and that they have absolutely no issues if anybody else goes through their phone and so on, but you know they are not really serious.

A friend of mine was discussing something her ex-boyfriend (let’s call the ex X) once said back in the day — “a very tangential reference”, according to her — with her current one (let’s call him Y), and Y said, “I don’t think you’ve ever gotten over this guy X — why don’t you mend fences with him and go back to him?” To which my friend exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? I’ve not spoken to X since the time we broke up [five years ago]… besides, you are all I need.” Shortly, a WhatsApp message floated up on her phone screen — her phone was lying on a table in front of where they sat together, right in the line of Y’s vision — with X’s name showing as being “sender”.

“In one fell swoop it was revealed that I was actually having conversations with my ex in the present — it’s a different matter they were totally harmless and were, in fact, work-related, nothing personal — and that I had been LYING to the man of the moment!!!” she exclaimed to me.

She then had to embark on an apology trip and make a big show of blocking X from all her phone apps while Y sulked for the next couple of days (claiming he would not be able to “trust” her again).

Once, I remember, I saw an SMS flash in on my brother’s phone that he had, by mistake, left next to me and gone to the other room. It was a message from my sister-in-law who was making tea in the kitchen, about 10 metres away. It just so happened I read it. I read it because it was right there and the phone blinked and the screen remained lit up for almost a minute, and yes, right, I should have averted my gaze and been more “ethical”.

I will not get into the details of what I read, but I didn’t quite like it.

The most challenging bit? Keeping a poker face when the two of them settled down with steaming cups of tea in front of me — pretending I had absolutely no idea what I had just seen… and, therefore, knew.

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