Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 40, Tuesday October 14, 2008




The technological sprint

Let me draw you a picture, or show you a movie, whichever is your fix: It's the 1970s, a typical two storey house in Dhanmondi. It's nighttime, seven thirty. Three brothers are playing football on the small balcony, the youngest one in the middle chasing the ball. It's the winter holidays, and they are free to play in the evenings when they would normally have been studying if school were open. There is a restlessness about their game; it's almost as if their mind is not in it. They are waiting for something. They play for only 10 more minutes and run inside. A game between boys is usually not so abruptly ended without parental intervention, leaving us to assume that the boys have something more fun than playing football on their minds.

Inside, the eldest, a thirteen-year-old, asks his father's permission to go to their aunt's house to watch Lassie. The father turns the volume on his radio down and tells the boy to come back no later than nine thirty. The mother, who was in the act of putting a record on the gramophone when her son came in, tells him that they could go only if they change their clothes and freshen up before leaving. Five minutes later, they set off on foot for their aunt's house, which is only a 15-minute walk away through the mostly deserted streets.

At their aunt's house, everyone is gathered around the small black and white television in the living room. The boys' aunt has two children, both boys and of the same age as their cousins. The show starts at eight and for the next hour the boys are enthralled by the dog and its heroics. Near the end of the show the aunt goes to the kitchen and comes back with a plate full of pitha. The children gorge themselves on their favourite dish. A phone rings and the aunt goes to answer. It's the boys' mother calling to tell them to come back home soon because their maternal grandfather will call from the village.

The boys reach home before 9:30 to find their parents waiting by the phone in the living room. The father tells them to wait there because their grandfather might call any minute. He lectures them for the umpteenth time about how their grandfather had to travel 5 kilometers from his village to make the call. In due time, the grandfather calls and the children all take turns talking to him.

Before they go to bed, the mother reminds the boys that it is only two weeks till the birthday of their cousin living in America, and that they had all better write down their greetings by tomorrow and mail it by the day after if the letters are to have a chance of making it on time.

Okay, let's now leave the seventies behind and fast forward to today. The two-storey house has been demolished, and a six-storey apartment building stands in its place. It's night here too. Revving motors in the streets provide the background music. Let us now enter one of these apartments.

The family living in the apartment is similar to the one we just visited; three young boys and their parents. The youngest boy, around eight years old, rushes out of a door with a gadget in his hand. He calls for his mother as he runs, and she appears at the door of another room. When asked what the predicament was, the boy, with misty-eyed desperation tells his mother that his new Nintendo Gameboy was not working. The mother takes the gameboy from her son's hand and fidgets with it, taking the cartridge out and replacing it, but to no avail. Just as the small boy is about to start the wetworks, the eldest boy comes in and inspects the gadget. The father and the other boy also appear to have noticed what the fuss is about. After some time the eldest son announces that since the cartridge was pirated, the gameboy has to be unlocked for it to work. This satisfies the youngest member of the family, but only after he had extracted a promise from his father to take him to unlock his gameboy the very next day. After this negotiation, the father resumes negotiations with the second-born, aged 12 years. The matter being negotiated was the bestowal of money with which the boy wanted to buy a 512 MB RAM chip for his computer. The father couldn't understand why his son needed another RAM chip when he had already gotten one three months ago. The son explains that the world of computers is a rapidly changing one and that things become obsolete very fast. The father remains unconvinced.

Suddenly the room is filled with music. It stops when the oldest boy takes a gadget out of his pocket and presses a button on it. He then proceeds to talk into it. As he puts it back in his pocket he tells his parents that he is going out with his friends. Her mother then takes out a similar device and calls the driver with it, and tells him to have the car ready for her son. As he is leaving, the mother tells the son to come back before dinnertime. The son reminds her that he could always heat the food up in the microwave when he came back.

The two families, spaced thirty years apart have many similarities. Apart from the similar composition, it is also evident that both are well-to-do families. There is, however, a marked difference in lifestyle. This difference is brought about by the increasingly important role that technology plays as time goes by.

Thirty years is a fairly short time in the grand scheme of things, yet over the last thirty years or so, the boom in technology and information technology in particular, has altered lifestyles radically. Gone are the days when a relative in the village had to travel across two other villages to call Dhaka. Now, everyone has mobile phones, often small enough to hide in the palm of one's hand. Gone too are the days for hand-written letters to relatives living far away. A simple text message, an email or a chat on one of the instant messaging services suffice. Television sets are now to be found in every household, if not in every room.

Technology has definitely helped the world, enabling people to stay in touch and be informed, not to mention the boons of the advances in medicine. It also has casualties. The generation of the father from the seventies has largely been shut out due to the rapid change in lifestyle. It is hard enough for technologically savvy people to keep up with the times, but it is almost impossible for a generation to accept or embrace changes that for the majority of their lives they had thought impossible. In the end, people will have to remember that most of the improvements in technology are meant to draw us closer, not push us apart.

By Sakeb Subhan


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