Friday, 21 August 2009
Technology leaves us with no choice
Like all mums, my mind is busy trying to plan activities for kids with an urgency which seems lost on my husband. I often wonder about the contribution of men in child rearing, apart from the critical contribution at initial stages of creation. Excited plans of days out, trips and after school activities are often greeted with expressions befitting the lazing lion being invited to swing on tree tops by a bunch of monkeys.
Most of the time my endeavour is to get the kids away from screens of the computer, television or mobile phone but I have recently realized how lucky we are as a generation to be able to appreciate how technology has indeed changed our lives for the better.
My mum, for instance who is nearly seventy, has suddenly been able to connect with her friends. Both men, who probably remember her as a delicate beauty in medical college, as well as close friends she thought she had lost touch with. With forwarded mails of philosophical presentations, jokes and sheroshayari, she is obviously having a blast and looks forward to each day's session on her laptop. Likewise, laptops and mobiles have been a boon to people in hospital beds or people who are otherwise confined.
Whereas earlier grandparents and parents would wait for letters, photographs and visits to find out how the little ones look, now, people are able to chat through out the day free of cost on Skype, are able to see growing grand children and are even able to take part in ceremonies like cutting the birthday cake, or Diwali Puja. Unfortunately, singing together is a chaotic no no, due to the few seconds delay in voices being carried across.
Then there are stories of how a man collapsed during his morning walk and his son in another city was contacted within minutes by dialling the last dialled call on his mobile.
Looking for directions is another area which has undergone a metamorphosis. In India, nobody asks for house numbers, while setting out to a friend's place any more. They just drive with mobile earphones and get real time directions- "yes, I am crossing the sweet shop, is that you in the shit yellow shirt waving like a madman?"
In the UK, where there is a paucity of people, who can be stopped to give directions, we have the Satellite Navigation System, which can sometimes lead you through abandoned country lanes in the middle of the night and freeze your blood by saying-"You have reached your destination," in a characteristically sing song voice with a finality which can leave you looking foolish and scared all at the same time.
Yet, I do remember waiting in the basement in Delhi Public School Hostel, for a trunk call booked hours before, to my parents in Asansol, to get through. I also remember looking for articles for my thesis in the dusty archive section of the medical journals in National Medical Library, an activity unheard of since the google arrived. Standing in line for train tickets, sweating cashiers ploughing through queues before a long weekend...these are dinosaurs in this age of ATMs, internet and mobile telephony.
Nothing causes wide eyes in my children, from man-eating sharks to earth shaking volcanoes and tsunamis, they have seen everything on the internet or television, if not in the real, then in the make believe world of movies. They imbibe information actively and passively, much more than we can imagine especially when spiderman's DNA, and futuristic games of football, all make learning fun.
Not only has technology changed personal lives, but also changed collective thinking. Be it the videos of Burmese Govt crushing the Buddhist monks or the huge demonstrations in Iran or even the shocking images of the collapsing twin towers...how information travels has isolated the radicals and brought together the moderates.
It reminds me of a debate I prepared for in the fourth year of my school- "science is a blessing, not a curse" Students against the motion had their most effective weapon- the Atom Bomb! I hope we live to see the good, not the bad...coming from advances in technology.