‘What is Tik Tok?’ I asked a young friend. There was deafening silence in the room for a whole minute as the clock on the wall made tick tock tick tock sounds, reminding me that I associate the onomatopoeic words with the mechanical time-measuring device. My friend’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped to the floor. After he had recovered from the shock of my digital illiteracy, he asked in an incredulous voice, ‘Do you live on this planet?’ ‘Well, do I look like an extra terrestrial to you? I’ve been very much here,’ I shot back though I wasn’t sure if my pallor had changed to an embarrassed red and the monsoon had made my hair look like I had been electrocuted a minute ago, making me look like an alien.

My friend’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped to the floor. After he had recovered from the shock of my digital illiteracy, he asked in an incredulous voice, ‘Do you live on this planet?’

‘Everyone’s on to it, more than 300 million monthly active users, you know,’ he said, gasping. ‘You should see some of the videos people upload. It’s a great tool. Filters, stickers, control over video speed, access to professional audio. It’s fun! What have you been doing?’ he asked me in a tone reserved for those who miss out whether they have FOMO or not. I was one such. ‘Me? I have been going for long walks, looking for snails, watching birds, writing in my dairy, listening to some music, learning the lyrics of my favourite songs, trying to paint, reading some books and struggling to rewrite my manuscript. I have also been cooking and doing the dishes.’ My friend did not look one bit impressed. ‘You know these videos can make you a celebrity!’ ‘Really? Can you name them? The celebrities? I’ll check them out,’ I said excitedly. ‘Er . . . um . . . I don’t really remember but I’ll message you the names,’ he assured me and took my leave.

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‘Hello,’ I called after him, ‘don’t forget.’ ‘Oh yes, that too. I hope you are on Helo.’ Gauging from the duh expression on my face, he said, ‘Gosh, you are such a Luddite. Helo is the coolest Indian social app. You can share viral content and daily news with your friends and family. You can record and share your thoughts and life in Helo.’ ‘I see,’ I mumbled, as I couldn’t think of one person who would be interested in my predictable routine or my ‘life’. ‘Another route to become a celebrity,’ he said, insinuating that I was a fool to not join the bandwagon. ‘Actually, I’m at the moment trying to get acquainted with my neighbours. At least greeting them and recognising them when I meet them at the local market. Is there an app that can make it easier for me? I often forget faces and names.’ My friend rushed down the stairs even before I could complete my sentence.

‘There will be an AI breakout soon,’ he all but threatened, and all I could think of at that moment was inoculating myself against what seemed like an imminent epidemic.

I closed the door and sat down trying to re-establish my definition of a celebrity. In these times, it’s a little about separating the wheat from chaff. You could become a celebrity by peeling garlic cloves masterfully, turning the chore into an art. You could light up a cigarette and post your pictures on a photo and video sharing social networking site and grab attention; you could post a hundred opinions about anything and everything and make a noise loud enough to be heard worldwide and get a halo around your head, and you could just rabble rouse and get there. Just when I began counting the ‘celebrities’ I could remember, the doorbell rang. It was my friend again. ‘Listen,’ he said, wagging his index finger, ‘you better get familiar with these apps.’ He knew of the opportunity I had lost a few years ago when I had shied away from editing a piece of writing in the ‘Track Changes’ mode as I didn’t know how, and lost a great job opportunity. He had slapped his forehead in exasperation then, and I winced at the memory. I assure you I’ve come a long way from there but I’m nowhere near becoming a celebrity.

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‘There will be an AI breakout soon,’ he all but threatened, and all I could think of at that moment was inoculating myself against what seemed like an imminent epidemic. ‘See, you are getting old. Do you want to see how you will look when you hit seventy? Just download the FaceApp. It’s a Russian artificial intelligence (AI) photo editor,’ he explained. ‘Russian, is it?’ I asked, remembering the whole shindig about their alleged hand in the US elections, which gave the world a motor mouth head of state who seemed to have downloaded a FaceOff app, given the number of skirmishes he has had. ‘No, thank you,’ I said. ‘What can happen to my face other than getting crow’s feet, laugh lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin? I’ll surely get there one day. Let me surprise myself. And if I die before I hit that age, it won’t matter anyway, will it?’ He looked at me with disdain. ‘You are such a bore,’ he hissed.

Well, I did Google to get a lowdown on apps. No, I didn’t say download. I’m getting by with the little innate intelligence I have at the moment. I do use a reading app (very happily at that) and a couple of others which make me a kind of borderline app literate. Someday, perhaps, I’ll make a video, and have a life worthy enough to be shared with my unsuspecting network. Till then, I guess it’s best to bask in my anonymity.

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Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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