Friday, July 04, 2008
Going nowhere, very fast ? इतकी धावपळ ?
My parents got our first telephone (early sixties), when I was in class 8. The typical Tring-tring of the black rotary phone threw my friends and me into technologically superior raptures. Mahmud of Ghazni, East India Company, Crops in Africa, Shakespeare's Tempest, Scientific reasons, short notes, long notes, theorems etc were discussed endlessly over it, till an unseen hand (I actually know whose hand it was), came and pressed some buttons to disconnect us, following that up with a disapproving stare, some angry words, and a hint that someone else would soon be home.
The middle eighties heralded the advent of TV in our house. Black and white. 1 channel. And "surfing" was something you saw in Hollywood movies.. We got our first color TV in the early nineties. Cable television in late nineties. Cell phones entered our life about 3 years ago. With the advent of IT, desktops and laptops started being a "required" item for anyone being "educated".
It has occurred to me that this excessive technicalization, and ability to communicate with machines, has actually been a setback, and instead of evolving our brains to a version 2.1, we have probably regressed back to something like version 0.5.
Why else have we regressed from parents who knew "mathematical tables" of 0.5. 1.5. , 0.75. all the way up to 30, to my generation that considers it an achievement to know the tables up to 16, and the new IT generation that doesn't know tables, but starts tapping away on their keyboards or cellphones , at the slightest hint of an imminent two digit multiplication or division ?
Why else have we given up on writing letters as a means of communication, while some of us still preserve , even in tatters , old letters written by those longer there, because reading them makes us feel that they are around us ; and today's communicators excel in speaking in abbreviations and emoticons, (despite the fact that electrons are free ), all the while missing out on an actual wink from someone, a secret smile, a ringing laugh, and a quiet hand on someones shoulder, saying "don't worry".... all this being available for the asking, if we only took the trouble.
Bus travel is no longer fun. Smiling at your neighbor in the next seat is a suspicious activity. As soon as you get in the bus, out comes the cell phone, and everyone starts tapping the keypad, either to play asinine games , or to read messages about earning fortunes by answering pachvi-pass questions. Some like to make calls continuously indicating their whereabouts along the bus route, even if they are 20 miles away, giving updates every now and then in so detailed a manner that it would teach the various pilot cars of political dignitaries , a lesson or two.
Sometimes you learn a lesson or two you don't need to learn. Such as , two college girls , standing beside our seat in a crowded bus , talking to folks back home saying they were busy in extra practicals , at their college, actually fifteen miles back westwards. Or a gentleman who mistook his cellphone for a loudspeaker, and publicly spoke across the bus about how he was fibbing to someone about some price.
So, while a mother calling out to a teenage son in the house may get no immediate response, verbally or non verbally, thanks to the earpiece of the cellphone sticking into his ear, various typed out responses continue to emanate forth from his cellphone, relating to random questions regarding hollywood,bollywood, cricket, one lakh in prizes , who is your ideal soul mate, what your name means etc etc.
Notice the unwillingness of today's teenager to attend a social function in the same space-time as his parents. Notice how most teenagers who emerge out of their rooms to meet family guests, have really nothing much to say, completely enamoured as they are of all the language killing communication vocabulary prevalent on wireless contraptions today. Bus stops are not for awaiting buses, or noticing new interesting people waiting for the same bus as you. Bus stops are for staring into your cell phones, tapping away to chase some snake on the screen into some imaginary hole, or a ball away from some imaginary bat. Bus stops are also for sending messages to your friend standing 10 feet away from you , in what is sometimes called, the bus-queue. (What stops them from shouting a full blooded hello is beyond me).
It amazes me no end to recall, that we never had any of these contraptions in our childhood, but were never at a loss for anything to entertain us. Hide and seek , chor-police, land-and-sea, there were so many games just waiting to be played. Sports classes to be attended, music to be learnt, birthdays to be celebrated. We even attended social functions with the family, and made unembarrassed decent conversation with folks we met, related or otherwise.
So, it is very strange that in an effort to go higher, faster, quicker ( and I am not referring to the Olympics), we keep acquiring so called smarter hardware, which is, all the while, making us dumber and dumber. Unless I have a TV that shows Wimbledon, the World cup and the Asia cup finals in the same screen, I am not getting anywhere in life. And it is now easier to shout and shake your head,hands etc at Dhoni, Sehwag, Venus,Serena, not to forget Nadal and Federer, than it is to have a decent conversation with your neighbour. And I deliberately don't mention the football types.
Stupid , technologically disabled me. I still use the old telephone. It still rings with the old tring. I don't need Enrico Iglesias and Himesh Reshammiya singing to tell me I have reached someone on the phone. As if the excessive attention to cricket is not enough, some people even have a sample cricket commentary , (complete with stadium erupting in joy etc). playing when you call them.
And I have never understood the need to combine the camera with the phone . You never see a reputed photographer, with a camera that rings and you never see him talking into his camera . So why this combination ? If you are soaking wet in the rain and trying to squeeze your clothes to get the water out, someone can click you from a moving bus on a camera phone and you might just see yourself in the pages of a local tabloid the next day, under an article saying "Soaking wet woman trying to squeeze out water next to Mumbai's second largest pothole".
Are we accelerating too fast in our surge towards becoming what is defined as a "developed nation"? Everyone in a big hurry to get nowhere. A Google search taking seconds makes you restless, because on some other machine it takes milliseconds. Downloading speeds of several thousand bytes per second are stone age speeds, and BSNL, our desi service provider has commercials on TV with geeky types dancing to celebrate 2 Mbps "super" speeds on offer.
Personal computers become obsolete much before your stored yearly supply of rice gets over, and someone like me who sticks to an ancient P3 while blogging is considered a misinformed dud. But. The heart still beats at the same speed, trees and flowers still follow the seasons, a full term pregnancy is still 280 days, and you still stir the milk at a slow speed on your way to making a kheer. Our minds have a fixed bandwidth. With so much information trying to force itself in at such fast speeds, essentially attention spans have reduced. Television has abused eyes into becoming a sort of viewing brain. You see and react. Thinking be damned. Takes too much time.
Nevertheless, succumbing to the "caller tune" lobby, as it were, I once downloaded an old Marathi devotional ****song (click to play), that implores the Lord to accept the singer as a someone looking for a key to the "treasury of devotion" and asks Him to open the door to the treasure chest . A wonderful old Marathi classic, and my daughter , completely freaked out on calling me. Why blame her, so do many other people. "Such a slow song !" and "How many times must we listen to someone going on and on, imploring God to open the doors ?"
But the crowning episode was when once, on my way home, i spotted the son of some acquaintances, walking with his head down ahead of me. On the campus where I stay, the people density is low. Suddenly he shook his head and laughed. Touched his ear. On going closer, he appeared to be having an animated conversation with himself. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but this kind of behaviour , was hitherto considered by me to be prerogative of geniuses immersed in their own world. Since this discovery, I have seen various individuals ,regardless of age,sex or economic strata, behaving similarly.
I just wonder, if this rush to basically go nowhere fast, is to hide away from the real problems that face us. Overpopulation, lack of meaningful education methods, lack of primary education emphasis , dwindling infrastructure, pollution..... the list is endless.
Maybe we seriously need to slow down, a bit, and start thinking about Brain version 2.1 ?
****देहाची तिजोरी , भक्तीचाच ठेवा , उघड दार देवा आता, उघड दार देवा ......
(Click to listen to the song )