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    Volume 9 Issue 16| April 16, 2010|

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Food for Thought

Tricky Questions and Technological 'Tout-giri'

Farah Ghuznavi

Technological advances in recent decades have been astonishing by any standards, even if the promise of colonising other planets and being waited on hand and foot by mechanical attendants still remains in the realms of science fiction at least for the time being! Yet although our lives have been revolutionised by some of these discoveries, particularly through advances in communications, sometimes these gains have come at a price. Most might consider that price well worth paying, but for example - even the staunchest supporters of the Internet would agree that it has not been a completely unmixed blessing.

For one thing, e-mail and all the machinery (laptops, blackberries, mobile phones etc.) that support it have undoubtedly made us a lot more productive, but for many people the sensation of constantly being 'on call' can be somewhat stressful. If you don't believe me, talk to somebody who uses e-mail as part of their everyday work life and experiences a large volume of online traffic. While the convenience is indisputable, the accountability level is murder. There is no using the excuse that something got delayed or lost in the mail, or that the fax machine isn't working, on those occasions when you just don't feel like responding to something immediately.

Then there's the fact that all the people that you were quite happy having left far behind in your past, can now track you down on any number of social networking sites, or even through your various e-mail accounts. If you are lucky enough to have a reasonably common name though, you might still manage to get away with pretending that you aren't that Ruma Chowdhury especially if you haven't posted a recognisable profile picture.

Of course, some technophiles seem determined to take things further than others. The rash of stories I've come across about people finding out about the break-up of their relationship, marriage and in a few extreme cases, their divorce! - seems to indicate that too much 'breaking news' is taking place online. An even more bizarre case was posted in the form of a wedding video on Mashable. Everything seems normal with the tuxedo-clad groom and the bride in her white dress, until the groom whips out his phone and changes his Facebook status to 'married' right at the altar; not to be outdone, his bride does the same. But the last word goes to the priest, who says, 'If it's official on Facebook, it's official in my book'! While the stunt went over well this time, it's hardly to be recommended for one thing, it takes a pretty unusual marriage partner to find this funny and play along...

Not everyone approves of such technological preoccupations, of course. Religious conservatives in particular have come out strongly against the Internet. For example, the Anglican Church has confined itself to a rebuke in terms of Internet friendships leading to a weakening of real-time ones, as it is making people more selfish and less inclined to interact with others. In more extreme cases, social networking websites have been blamed for everything from rises in crime (when people are indiscreet with personal details, enabling criminals to take advantage of their carelessness) to rising divorce rates and increases in marital infidelity (as it's claimed that when or the other of the spouses is at work, the other is chatting online with someone else, leading to marital breakdown). While some of these claims are undoubtedly a little far-fetched, there are other dangers involved in surfing that are worth taking note of.

For example, there's the fear that every right-thinking parent occasionally experiences about what their child may encounter while surfing the net unsupervised. A friend of mine was very alarmed when she recently came into her teenage son's bedroom unexpectedly, and caught him guiltily switching to another computer window after minimising the one that had been on when she walked in. When she demanded to see what he had been really looking at, her son confirmed her worst fears by insisting that he would only show it to his father. Both the parents were subsequently much relieved to find that it was nothing worse than a shoot-'em-up video game that the boy knew his mother would disapprove of!

Mind you, you could forgive my friend for being worried that her son had been exposed to one of the ubiquitous pornographic websites that litter the virtual world. We live in strange times and sometimes the most unexpected things happen. Like the bizarre headline reported by Lenta.ru, announcing that pornography had been outlawed in the Ukraine - unless it was for “medicinal purposes”! So while possession of or trading in such images is punishable by fines and imprisonment for up to three years, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice recently announced (apparently with a straight face) that pornography could be kept “only for medicinal purposes”...

Of course, some might argue that politicians are crazy, and therefore capable of anything...The Ukrainian example would certainly give credence to such a notion. And in another such indicator of the weirdness of our times not to mention our own sometimes peculiar political culture - an expatriate friend of mine was recently urged to consider a political career right here! I should add that in general, as a fluent Bangla-speaking, biologically European, culturally-hybrid individual, this friend has attracted a great deal of attention in Bangladesh. Not only did she constantly have at least three or four people phoning her up and playing music or wanting to 'make friendship' at any one time, but she was even informed by the people she was visiting in North Bengal that she had been a big success - “Shobai bolchhey shey hit hoye gechey”.

So much so that the local MP asked her if she was interested in pursuing a political career, “MP hoben naki?” If there was any question that the political system in this country is severely flawed much as I like my friend - this blithe offer must constitute incontrovertible proof of dubious tendencies. The 'birther movement' giving Obama such a hard time in the US (and how is that for irony one of the world's most technologically advanced nations apparently being unable to settle once and for all, the contested issue of the President's place of birth?!) would certainly not approve of such liberalism...


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