Gen Zer Zuni Chopra Navigates A Dystopian Reality Without Modern Technology | Verve Magazine
India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine

Left to Their own Devices

In a special photo feature, Verve separates urban Gen Zer Zuni Chopra and her group of girlfriends – Lavanya Raju, Ish Patil, Anjali Savansukha and Lameeya Bandukwala – from their various gadgets for a day and transports them to a dystopia without modern technology. The teen author shares an exclusive poem in which she muses on an eerie reality while speculating with Huzan Tata about an analog life…


Left to right: On Lameeya: jacket, from Zara; shoes, from Adidas Originals; pants, stylist’s own. On Lavanya: top, by The Source; jacket, shorts, both from Zara; shoes, from Adidas Originals; glasses, Lavanya’s own. On Zuni: shirtdress, from Rajesh Pratap Singh; shoes, from Adidas Originals; glasses, Zuni’s own. On Anjali: jacket, pants, both from Zara; shoes, from Adidas Originals; glasses, Anjali’s own. On Ish: top, jacket, both from Zara; pants, from Lovebirds; shoes, Ish’s own.

By Zuni Chopra

We walk these empty sidewalks
Iron bubbles of noise and light
Following the blinking arrows
To the finish line.

The world is quiet, watching
Wasted words flooding the street
Our empty promises soothe foolish hearts
Our mortal selves now infinite.

We bathe ourselves in a chemical blue
Scars of circles and lines
And we wait for our blank, cold eyes
To stop glowing quite so bright.

A snap of the chord
Our gravity shifts
And we’re back on the soil
We’d stopped believing in

The faded leaves swirl through our fingers
A hollow breeze throws itself at our cheeks
The world, now rotten; not dead, but forgotten
Burned with our memories.

The shadowy imprint of ashy clouds
Consumes demented minds
We break from the smell, from the touch of the real
From the passion we’d left behind.

We’d evolved to minds of metal
And in these codes we placed our trust
But embraced by dying starlight
Our skin begins to rust.

We drown in paint and moonlight
In the waves, in the trees, and then
As we fade into our invention
I wonder: would we do it all again?

At what age did you get your first cell phone? What devices can’t you live without?
I got my first cell phone at 13 or 14; it was one of those Nokia phones that seemed like bricks. I really can’t live without my laptop, but I can do without my phone. Though, it’d be hard to stay without it at night because I wake up every two hours to check the time and see how many hours of sleep I have left. Apparently my grandmother used to do the same thing, but she would shine a flashlight on the wall clock. That’s too much effort, though, so I prefer my phone. I also have an iPad, but I don’t really use it much.

Before this shoot, had you seen or used a rotary phone? Do you remember when you first came across one?
I had seen it in movies and maybe at hotels, but I had never really tried to use one. It’s probably fun to rotate the dial, but I can’t imagine how long it would have taken people to input numbers and wait after every digit for it to roll back!

Have you ever tried or been forced to go on a tech detox?
I have, thanks to my mom. One day, when the whole family was on their phones, she said, ‘We should get off our screens and talk to each other’. But, within five minutes of doing that, we were arguing and my older brother Agni went, ‘We were all happier five minutes ago when we weren’t talking to each other!’ So, we have detoxed at times, even if it didn’t turn out so well! I guess it’s fun to not have a screen to look at sometimes.

Top, shorts, from Zara.

What do you find frustrating about the stereotype that your generation is isolated and addicted to the internet and cell phones?
I think that’s a really bad stereotype — like when people who aren’t very tech-savvy post pictures of youngsters staring at their phones while travelling by public transport and add comments like, ‘What happened to the days when people would just speak to each other?’ What do you want us to do, turn to the next random stranger and ask, ‘How are you?’ I think technology has, in fact, made us more interconnected. Because of social media, we can contact each other so much quicker. The people who say it’s isolating probably don’t know how to use it, so they’re the ones who actually feel isolated!

It’s really sad that people think we’re just stuck to our phones — that’s not totally true. We use them for a variety of things, but we’re not “addicted”. At the same time, I can see why someone who’s never really used technology could think that we’re into our screens too much. We definitely couldn’t live without them entirely — I know if I had to go a really long time without WiFi, I would be annoyed! I feel it’s more about us being dependent on our devices than being addicted to them.

Would you be fine going on vacation with only a film camera and single roll of 36 pictures?
I’d absolutely love it! When I was a kid, my parents actually got me a film camera that had the capacity for just 20 pictures, and you couldn’t even see what you had clicked until the photos were developed. I had a good time with it and had to keep track of every picture I had taken to know how many were left. For one of my birthdays, I was gifted a Polaroid camera, and that was ‘new’ technology for me. I thought it was so fascinating that you could have a picture develop instantly; I was in shock! So, if you were to send me on vacation with a film camera and tell me, ‘this is all you’ve got’, I’d say, ‘let’s do it!’

How do you think you would manage in school or college if you were not allowed to use the internet for your work at all?
That would definitely be tough, only because we look up everything online. That’s something I admire about previous generations — that they lived through school and college without the internet but survived by searching for things in libraries. It seems crazy to me. Also, we use the internet so much now — all my work is on Google docs. I don’t need to cite a page number of an actual book because they’re all links to web pages now. And, I can’t even imagine writing out 20-page essays by hand, I think I would cry! I don’t think older generations appreciate that the internet and technology have made school more about what you understand than just mugging from a book.

How would you keep yourself busy if you didn’t have access to any screens for 24 hours? Do you think that would be hard to do?
I think it would be a real blessing. I’d go out with friends, play with the dog; I think I’d find ways to keep myself busy. There have been days when I’m on vacation or not working that I’ve gone without using a screen or even thought about it.

What’s one now-obsolete device you’ve seen or heard of that you wish would make a comeback?
Definitely film cameras. Another one would be the rotary phone — they’re not practical at all, but I had fun trying to figure how to use them! Holding up an iPhone to your ear for many hours can get anyone annoyed, but the old phones have such a ‘fun’ shape — I think I could talk into them for hours if I had to.

What is the one thing you would still much rather do IRL despite having access to it via the internet?
I guess it would be playing a game like chess or scrabble, even card games. I know there are apps for those now, and I can see how they would help pass time when you’re alone, say, on a long flight, but I would much rather play these games on an actual board with a real person sitting opposite me.

How long, on average, do you spend online daily, and in what ways do social media and technology impact your day-to-day life?
I don’t spend that much time online, although when I’m bored, I have a habit of scrolling through Instagram, which is the app I use the most. I feel like I could live without social media, but it’s a good way to stay or get in touch with people with whom you wouldn’t have done so otherwise.
I’m probably going to sound like an annoying adult, but I don’t think parents should give their kids cell phones when they’re super young. Childhood comes but once, and I think children should have the chance to step out of the house and use their imaginations instead of having their noses buried in screens. I know it’s probably easier for people to give their children an iPad to have a few minutes of peace, but I think they shouldn’t do it very early on. I guess the way things will go in the future all depends on my generation. It’s all on us!

Clockwise from centre: On Zuni: top, shorts, both from Zara. On Lavanya: turtleneck, from The Source; top, pants, both from Massimo Dutti. On Lameeya: turtleneck, from The Source; jacket, from Bodice; pants, from Zara; shoes, from Adidas Originals. On Anjali: turtleneck, from The Source; overalls, from Zara; jacket, from Only. On Ish: jacket, from Dhruv Vaish.