My first day in the US in 1969 when I went for grad school. Before that, I had never flown in a plane, never seen foreign currency, and never been driven on what I was convinced , was the wrong side of the road.
One of my first queries was to ask, where were all the people ? (This was California)
Miles and miles of residences and apartment complexes, empty roads, closed cars swishing by, that too without honking.
Coming from a place where at any given time on a road outside your house, people may be seen going somewhere, cycling, pushing carts, biking, some even driving cars, just sitting around, having a cuppa, or calling out to someone, the silence on the American roads was deafening. Your mornings were never punctuated with three pressure cooker whistles from the next house, and no one stood in doors, debating the state of the world with folks in other house doors.
One of the first things I was told, is that in the US, you didn't ring your neighbour's doorbell and drop in unannounced for a chitchat. Also, if you borrowed even a single penny from someone you gave it back. There was no concept of paying 25 paise for someone, and then it being waived off as too small to get involved in repayment. Something that was part of our life back home.
And while it looked like here was a society that functioned strictly according to rules , where privacy and the adult individual was supreme, it kind of brought home the fact that this was an exclusive society as opposed to India, where we had a very inclusive approach. Sometimes bordering on the intrusive, but never mind.
Which is why , if you think about it, Twitter and Facebook began in the US. A formalization of informal communication. Designed to bring folks "closer".
Chances are, that majority of the folks who worked on the software design etc, were from India. And one wonders why the need for Twitter and FB was never felt by them in India.
And then there is this thing, that whatever the West introduces, we swallow. Without chewing. And where Twitter and FB are concerned , we also , spit out. Sometimes pointlessly.
Cell phones have digitized us to such an extent, that today , most folks function in a kind of autonomous-response way; without getting the brain involved directly. We are infatuated with immediate responses, and so, frequently, no , almost always , we bypass the brain.
I mean who would have thought that photographs of what you are eating might interest anyone worldwide. So puri and batatyachi bhaji photos got forwarded and broadcast, someone drank coriander leaves juice with cucumber and karela, and a thousand people indicated that they "liked" it ; Someone thought they looked like Madhuri Dixit in a sari and posted portraits occupying half a computer screen, and fellows who would have been otherwise glared at by elders, or who might have even daringly whistled, went to town giving "likes" and "wow" and "thumbs up". Very clearly, we lost our original communication style, and slavishly followed the Western model.
But in all this desperation to match international folks, there was always a collateral damage to reckon with. There are folks who think and tweet, and then there are those, who do not think and tweet . Things that would be earlier discussed in fun amidst friends are now stated in a tweet visible to the public. Folks in authority , lose sight of accuracy in the urge to tweet desperately before someone else does. The more public the better. (I have always wondered . Was there a world before Twitter ?)
And so you have ministers tweeting at random, messing facts, mixing names. Causing a plethora of abusive responses by those offended by it all as well as those simply reading for fun and joining in . You have absolutely uninformed random types, tweeting what they think, are golden nuggets of useful information, like Usain Bolt ate beef and hence the Gold Medals. This causing another tsunami of tweets in response. Folks from news channels, fight with others of their ilk, at a level one did when one was in school ; calling people names has become a developed art. Absolutely anyone comments on anything, any subject, and an entire twitterized Facebooking population, desperately types and clicks to be heard themselves.
Sometimes, with expectations of instant responses, and perhaps an occasional lack of that thereof, I think peoples brains are actually affected.
And so daily, your newsfeed has outrageous news items like , some guy throwing a woman out of a running train because she refused to shift; a discussion was never an option ? A guy chases someone , hoping for a positive response. A lack of that response leads to him physically harming the girl . There is a general societal tendency , not just to go digital, but behave in a binary fashion; this or else. There are stories you read about a guy demanding a particular cell phone, and commiting suicide or homicide because he didnt get it. There are stories about fathers abusing daughters, elders being abused and videos being made about it, and this outlandish demand for instant decisions, probably throws brains into chaos. Dehumanising is the word that comes to mind.
Kids are constantly glued to phones at home,and perhaps a day will come when a mother whatsapps from the kitchen , saying food is ready, and some kid responds with emoticon implying a grin. Then she whatsapps saying she has made puranpolis , and the fellow immediately responds with thumbs up sign, while of course , checking FB in another window.
A day will come when Google, and such types will work on a software that converts emoticons and gif's to audio. Perhaps they already do. And I am sure our fellows will be at the forefont working on that software. Which will come on Playstore as an App , and the whole of India will download it.
Such a collossal waste . Its like you waste an entire generation , simply to come back to the same place you started from. And in the process , addle peoples brains.
Maybe 50-60 years from now, people will have atrophied thumbs and index fingers from overuse . Eyelids will have a permanent downward orientation, due to a lifetime of watching the phone screen . And someone at John Hopkins will do a study and publish a paper on this.
I am not sure I like all this.
I still hark back to communication where one uses not just words, but tones, eyes, facial expressions , hands and so on. It hurts to see crowds of folks at bus stops, busy clicking away on their phones all by themselves, when I remember making friends, chitchatting and discussing, say, the state of the roads, potholes, crowds etc .
The only saving grace in all this massive digitization, is the very Indian concept of introducing the "missed call" and its numerous uses. "Making a missed call" is itself confusing for anyone else to understand. You either make a call or you don't. You either answer or you don't.
Perhaps, doing something, and going through the motions, with the end result already known , is a very Indian thing to do.
Ask any politician.