Presence in absence

In the land of the Bunched Hunched up people

Ï watched my smartphone fall a short distance from the study table one evening during its charging ritual. A few seconds before, wanting to check messages, I’d sort of pulled it by the charging cord and, as the law of gravity would have it, its weight pulled it off the connecting point. It ceremoniously met with the ceramic tiled floor and the Lumia 800 hurdled towards permanent lights out. Heartbroken and instantly sore to the core from the thud sound I heard when the phone hit the floor I expected the worst damage as I picked it up. I could make out a few things on the screen for the screen was damaged but surprisingly not cracked… but the main buttons of Home, Confirm and Return were not responsive to my frantic fingerings. Something more in this harsh ordeal was that I could swear the screen was dying out for a dark purplish lava lamp like goo moved in slomo to blot out the screen. Bought for novelty’s sake than to fit in with the populace, this was a phone whose battery was non-removable; it possessed only two slots, one for charging and the other for the micro-sim. And now jammed into its spacious memory were important keys to my daily activities by way of a calendar, social media networking platforms, private documents, photos of where I have been or what interest me as well as an extensive address book of my contacts. A sad thought loomed in the background of this specter, I was being blurred out towards an erasure as the dark lava spread throughout the screen signaling the death of the device.


A switch off occurs when you go off the grid of social media connectivity whereby you go amiss in the digital social life of people who have you listed as their friend knowingly or unknowingly. Quite a number of people could care less whether you are around at the best of times. Unless if you are a kwaito star who has reached the nirvana of a staple diet wherein your devotees daily probing, poking and in-boxing of your person is their reassurance that they are part of the world we live in

We’ve come to rely on instruments, devices to simulate a concrete direct contact with dear ones – mimicking the ‘now’. We take offence when we send a probe down the mass communication highway only to receive silence in return. We do not have the gall to wait like the pen pals of yore, you savvy. We are the instant product of promptness itself – we demand instant reaction, instant response, pushed further – we demand instant gratification that comes with being acknowledged. That’s what validate that all is well with the people we surround ourselves with even though through digital shadowing. We are a Bunched Hunched Up People.

It’s absolutely grim to think of one’s presence as a temporary affair so long as one has a devices that hook, anchor and reinforce a tangible presence with the exception, and to a certain extent, of voice calls. Devices that can make us appear present in the now, even in instances wherein you speak to someone on the other side of the planet. And as far as social media networks are concerned you may appear everywhere but be nowhere even when you provide your geo location it is not valid enough except for the person privileged to be with you physically at that instant. Unfortunately for them they risk being exposed, from time to time, to a hunched up version of you on a device than an unwavering eye contact chest out posture version of you. We are constantly plugged in.

We’ve created anecdotes that start long before we meet with people in the real. The element of surprise and the thrill that comes with it has been undermined and in some cases it, the element of surprise, has left by the back door while the house morphed into a transparent glass house. There are a few rebels at the fringes who have refused to budge to this thing which we are experiencing the zenith vogue of. What could possibly be left when privacy is obliterated altogether? They are the odd ones. What could they possibly be missing?

Think of this new realm as a sort of an Imbizo. The closer you are to the circle the clearer it is of what is being said and the greater the chances are of you contributing to what is at the centre of those bunched hunched up people. Your chipping in (profile update, photo upload, a poke here and there) cozily makes the bunched hunched up people take notice of you. But then there is the outer edge. A space wherein you risk falling into if you slipped off out of the Imbizo gathering thingy of social media hook up if you were to withdraw on your own accord or due to a glitch or damage of your device – your plugin. Without a plugin you fall out into an outsider space. You don’t belong to the instant. That’s the fate I suffered for a month or so when my cellphone broke

N.B. This article is dedicated to the television and film screenwriter, travel writer and the weekly columnist for The Times – Darrel Bristow-Bovey.


Summer (there is no doubt about it, its summer. I happen to swipe-wipe beads of sweet now and then while this piece wrote itself)

10 January

© Mmutle Arthur Kgokong 2015

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