I have been walking around with a list for a while. Taking deep breaths every now and then. Putting the piece of paper down, and picking it up again. Fiddling my fingers and contemplating running away. You may suspect it is a list that could shatter a few worlds, or something as powerful. Sorry to disappoint you: it’s my grocery list for the day. Or week, if you like, if you are a systematic person. Me? I just call up the shop whenever I remember an urgent item or two to purchase. And they deliver. I can pay with my card; they don’t insist on cash. Easy-peasy. I have been calling them for over ten years. They know me now. The people who pick up the phone, if they have a moment to spare, ask about my well-being. I ask about theirs. So why am I trying to postpone the very simple, delightful task of ordering a few items which will be delivered to my door within the hour?

The answer is: I don’t know. I try to put off calling the shop as much as I can. Almost until every necessary item in the kitchen has run out and there is no more escape if the family has to survive.

I have been doing some thinking and it occurs to me: I don’t want to talk. Sad though it sounds, it is the truth. How much do I talk to people now? Very less. Everything happens via the phone – the very device which was invented for people to converse, is being used these days to do anything but. Almost every task gets done with enough amount of punching on the keypad or screen, not a word needs to be spoken.

Think about it: Family updates come via group chats. News from around the world pop up as messages; friends send their updates through social media. You can check at your leisure. You can reply at your convenience. Or ignore altogether, if you like. Food gets delivered, cabs line up at your door, books can be read, movies can watched – if you just know where to click. If you want to report a faulty telephone or know your bank balance, you don’t need to say a word. Just dial, follow the recorded voice and keep pressing the keypad for the right amount of numbers. If you want to ask your neighbour something, send her a message and wait for her reply.

Here I must pause a moment to acknowledge people who still like to hang from their phones for hours on end, talking, talking, talking, dissecting every little detail, regardless of whether their curry is burning in the kitchen or whether the world stopped spinning on its axis. Off the top of my head, I can recall at least five acquaintances. Thankfully, not everyone is afflicted with my strange illness. (I shudder at the thought of having to call these acquaintances.)

Except for this grocery list, most of my purchases are the outcome of my punching on their respective apps. It’s like magic, isn’t it?? Tap, tap, type, type, click and voilĂ ! What you seek is in your hand. (Accio Firebolt!)

The only reason I haven’t moved my grocery purchase to a very inviting app (of a different shop) that does not require a reading aloud of my list, is a sense of loyalty to this shop, a loyalty which is at its flimsiest at this point of time – just because of the painful job of having to say, “Hello, I am calling from… Can you please send me…” I am impatiently waiting for my shop to develop an app: they are still taking baby steps. Perhaps it would be a clever idea for me to remind them: “Business isn’t bad even without the app; but for how long?”

If this trend keeps up, people might find a method to avoid talking even face-to-face. Perhaps a technique would develop wherein we could just fiddle our fingers and the thought appears before the eyes of our spouse. We won’t ever have to look anyone in the eye. Reminds me of the world of the future as depicted in the movie Wall-E.

Just as I begin to worry over the vanishing art of speech, comes the newest kid on the block: the talking / responding / obeying box of an assistant, currently immobile, but a precursor to the metallic dwarf-like creature that would soon trail after us and bring us tea. As of now, the orders are to be given via voice. Alexa, for God’s sake call up the damn shop and order groceries! What am I paying you for! On one side, we are getting rid of conversation with humans; on the other, we have to parley with the non-living, to get things done. I am quite speechless at human progress. The future holds so much promise in the art of making conversation, don’t you think?

Meanwhile the grocery list beckons. So what if sugar and salt and rice have run out, and the kitchen is empty, and the family starves? Perhaps I should throw loyalty to the wind and install that promising app of the other shop.

Loyalty prevails for one more day… I pick up the list again and gather courage to make that one dreaded phone call…