Sunday, April 11, 2010


E-people. There is no other name for us.

There are 3 people and 3 cell phones in the house. With varying degrees of sophistication. I mean the cell phones, not the people . Till a few days ago, just one of them (the phones), could upload things nicely on to a PC. And so when those of us with really simple cell phones wanted to upload, my daughter would do something using "bluetooth" , get everything on the fancy phone and upload from there. That also brings me to the completely bizarre naming of things that has happened with the e-fication.

In my lifetime, we have moved from teletypes, to huge mainframes, to table top models, to laptop and palm top models.

My introduction to the IT of the old days, was through coding sheets, on which you laboriously wrote your programs in some third generation language as they called it. The entire stuff was punched into cards using punching machines. Bunches of these punched cards, were held together with rubber bands. Sometimes, the programs and data cards occupied several boxes, which we lugged around everywhere. All the machines were huge, including the card readers and printers, they made a huge noise, and I used to always secretly feel that if the air conditioned premises were devoid of these lumbering magnetic memories and peripherals, the place would be ideal as a marriage hall. :-).

Every Dassehra, there would be a Puja function when all the machines would be cleaned, decorated with kumkum and flowers, and the Gods prayed to. The folks at the top of the echelon would brake a coconut on the floor for prasad(=consecrated food), and I remember thinking how wonderful it would be , if a certain troublesome part of the hardware could be used instead of the floor , for breaking the coconut. Deletion by Divine intervention.

Computerisation, per se, was not widely prevalent, and attitudes of folks to it could be greatly revealing. About 25 years ago, I was once entrusted the job of conducting "computerization familiarization" lectures for the staff in our accounts and administration sections, now that PC's were making appearnces, and various operations were slated to be computerized . These were folks in their 40's and 50's , very comfortable with calculators and stuff, and doing things in triplicates, and xeroxing etc. That someone other than a human could be thought to think, was a mind boggling thing for them and I was asked to do a very basic set of lectures aimed and those who had seen , but were intimidated with the jargon and stuff.

So many times we blindly follow definitions. Because we know that once we get the hang of the running of the thing, these will just be names. But when it comes to explaining (to those who are perfectly happy with what they have), things like 'booting", I realized that the standard explanation of "bootstrapping" (pulling yourself up by your bootstraps) simply did not jell in a system where modes of entering, starting off and retiring were clearly defined and visible.

They finally understood when booting was explaining with an analogy to kick starting a two wheeler to an "idling" state. You put your scooter in neutral, kick start it, and if the fuel mixture and cylinder-piston stuff was exemplary, the machine would idle, allowing you to sit and put it in gear, move on, whatever. (Akin to getting a DOS prompt on screen, allowing you to perform operations). Since many of those in the class had two wheelers, they immediately caught on. Bad sectors and stuff on disks was explained by analogy with how the postman identified our addresses, and what he did when the address was nor readable.

In some practice sessions with interactive programs, fingers would reverentially, yet hesitantly, hover over the "Enter" key, someone would look up , and ask, "Should I press?". We'd advise them to go ahead and see what happens. I think some probably thought the PC would power off in shock, or maybe burn down or whatever, so much for the button/switch anxiety . Instead, the screen would report back with a very human like response, saying things like "wonderful", "thank you", and even "bye-bye". There would be groups laughing at something on the screen, pointing, and it was difficult to tell folks that it was time for them to leave.

Those were the days, when PC-AT's had just come. (Today's students don't know what they missed). Hard disks in your PC were a prestigious thing to have (!). I have used machines with no hard disks. And people, who were taught that booting was similar to kickstarting, often treated hardware like they treated motorcars.

We once had an engineer in to check out a hard disk malfunction, and noticed that he inserted the tip of a knife somewhere and gave a kind of shove to something, whereupon the hard disk suddenly came to life. Turns out that something that would start the disk rotating wasn't strong enough. For many days after that, till the company engineers managed to fit us into their schedule for repair and replacement, a fancy penknife sat on the system unit, and just like old cars were cranked and started by rotating a handle stuck in below the bonnet, one of us would open the knife, and stick it inside, and give a push, to God alone knows what, but the system started. The company engineer rushed after one of our incharge professors saw the knife in action, and became speechless.

Clumsy connections often sprang to life with alacrity when a system unit was given a disciplinary thump, or the monitor was given a punitive shake, and I often look back on those days with a lot of fondness, when the machines were perceived as almost human, and needing an occasional slap as such.

Today, a shop keeper will regretfully shake his head on being asked about graph paper, but will nod with alacrity when you ask for blank cd's, dvd's or pen drives. Phones which simply make calls and receive calls are almost non existent. In addition, they message, sing, take pictures, send pictures, ring alarms, traipse around the web, drunk on their own jargon.

The nice old rotary phone never had a proper name, but today you stick Blackberries and Apples to your ear, which is probably a good thing now, as the variety used, to go to the mouth, is very expensive this year. Good old notebooks are not paper anymore, and some phones even have pencil type things with which you tap out acronyms and short forms, that have today made English age early. Words like Bluetooth, which would have intimated a child and disgusted a dentist earlier are now routinely bandied around, and the younger the children, the more savvy they seem to be.

It's the story of human relationships actually.

Earlier, social systems for meeting were not as prevalent (in India), and if and when you did actually meet someone you liked, you valued that, and everyone worked halfway to meet in a golden middle, tweaking attitudes and thoughts. There was more acceptance of changing standard deviations, a feeling , that if you worked at it, things would be normal and fun once again. Like our PC-AT, which worked, almost at knife point, but got the work done, and probably got used to the pointed touch.

Today, for many , relationships is like a hobby. Like the new phones, you try them for a while, if they don't work, you discard, and get new ones. There are social networking sites, where you take a chance on total outsiders becoming your bosom pals. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But you say you have 456 friends, take a deep breath, and move on. There are articles written and scientific research done in how laptops and download speeds are causing anxiety attacks in people.

The whole idea of an individual sitting in isolation tapping away for hours on a keyboard, and trying to build an e-relationship, is antonymous.

Sometimes I wish, you could close a misbehaving laptop in anger, give it a whack, shake it, and start it up again, and that it would work again. I know some companies show commercials on TV where they drop laptops to the floor and they say they still work.


You know, they may find newer techniques of cardiac bypasses, and cancer treatments, but the solution for curing the common cold still remains to be found. ...


  1. This is my first time on your blog, although I've seen your name on a lot of other ones...and as I had expected I'm enjoying it a lot! :)

    Your version of the pre-computer era is completely alien to us! While in college they were an inseparable part of our lives, since any problem was only a 'Google' away. Ditto with social networking websites, where a longer friends list is assumed as a sign of popularity, notwithstanding the fact that you wouldn't care less about that person.

    People now seem to more committed to e-relationships, even if that means ignoring 'real' people around you. Sad, but true. Isn't it?

  2. LOLing at the Blackberries n Apples in the ear instead of the mouth!

    And your last line is so relevant too!

  3. There are other things as well ! LIke the ones with blue tooth headset walking about talking !

    Almost seeming to be talking to themselves ! Walking across !

    This is a wonderful post tracing the roots of the phone's evolution ! As they said the other day...there was a time when Apples and Blackberries were just fruits.. !

    But that was a different time.

  4. Interesting read. Liked the bit about apples and blueberries.

    Many years ago we had a marketing head who was very good at work and who we all admired and respected. Always smiling, had a lovely family too. One day I saw him sitting on the steps outside the foodcourt talking to himself, gesticulating wildly. I was terribly upset, thought the stress had been a little too much for him. Was relieved when I realised he was using a bluetooth headset :) Those days it wasn't common so if one used it people were likely to have such a reaction initially!

  5. When I started working, we were still using typewriters and carbon paper, people smoked cigarettes at their desks, and a beer in the office on Friday afternoons was commonplace.

    Now I work for a company which has many "virtual" workers, people who never come in to the office and with whom I have relationships over a computer screen only.

    People are remarkably adaptable, aren't we? Some of the relationships I have online are as real to me as the people I see "in real life". And yet the ability to touch and be touched are so important -- I hope we do not forget, as a people, our vulnerabilities and our need to belong.


  6. The reverence to comps was amazing I remember having to remove my shoes before entering the computer room in school which was air conditioned else they'd say the computer would go ballistic.

    The computer said "wonderful", "thank you" and "byebye"...... that is soooo cute!!!!

  7. I have always found it very satisfying when you name a file by the person's name -say xxx - and when you close it - it says - do you wish to save changes to xxx. If only life was that easy !!

    Or better still, that whack to get things to start working/ or make changes really helps.

  8. Interesting journey down memory lane!

    I remember whacking the first desktop we got, to get it to work properly. :)

  9. What a lovely re-booting of our olde PC memories. When PC meant Polite Conversation and Personal Computers demanded hushed reverence.

    Great read!!!

  10. 'Today, for many , relationships is like a hobby. Like the new phones, you try them for a while, if they don't work, you discard, and get new ones'.

    You are dead right. I somehow only half understand things going on around me. Like ' we're not dating but we're friends' stuff. when one is dating he/she keeps chatting away on the mobile/int'net and what have you. when they are just friends they do the same. what then is the difference?

  11. Is my first time on your blog (i think ) and you have done great job here :)

    Short Poems

  12. Marinela Reka Thank you ! You might be more interested in my poetry blog, Here .....

  13. Lovely - I have not seen those kind of computers, I used to think computers were not my kind of things (without ever using one!)until in 1995, a friend and I once sat down to type out something, and I was awed by the 'spell checker' and the ease with which one could delete or undo or redo :)

    Those were still the pre-mobile days, when we had to stand in queues to make STD calls, when phones had to be booked three years in advance... and I remember she said their desk top cost (around the same price as a Maruti 800 in those days) Rs 75000/- :)

  14. Khalil Sawant :-)

    Varsh Thank you and Welcome !

    Starry I mean how imaginative can phone names get ? Apple indeed !

    Kavi This is an age of pointless nomenclature. Why blue tooth ? Why not root canal ? So long as the naming is arbitrary ? And why not Ugich ? :-)

    Arundhati Yes, it certainly looks weird seeing grown people making faces and talking to themselves. Hands free/earpieces/etc etc and the neighbors can still hear the whole conversation....

    Pearl Yes, Like you say, its a different experience making friends and colleagues on line...

    Ranu Yes, we too had that shoe removing business.... too much fuss I thought, although the cold AC floor certainly felt great in Mumbai...

    Radha You would then need to go the whole hog. And "are you sure you want to delete XXXX ?" would be a difficult question ...:-)

    manju I guess whacks in life are required every now and then..:-)

    Sucharita The current speed of obsolescence in computers, makes me feel positively prehistoric :-)

    HHG You know, its the "version" philosophy. You keep updating with newer and newer versions . To days young do not know how to stick to one tried and tested gold standard....

    IHM Thank you. But I never reaaly thought I would see so many versions and contraptions in my life. The first years were so slow. Now there seems to be obsolescence happening every day !