Monday, 30 January 2012

A Tale of Two Centuries

It was suggested to me that now that I have `my blog' up and running, I should consider posting something fresh, which was not necessarily somber and related to the `differently abled' motif, and was a slightly easier read. It occurred to me that I should write something specially for the young people who have come forward spontaneously in support of an oldie's blog. I shall attempt to address another possible interpretation of `different strokes'.

I have been talking in this blog about how my daughter talked me into letting her create the blog for me, and of how I am technologically challenged and need the help of people typically under 25 to get technological/electronic gizmos to work their magic for me. This might give a casual reader the notion that I must be somewhat dim-witted, inept and incapable of doing things for himself. On the one hand, I see many people of my (50 +) generation demonstrating the same phobia for electronic devices. On the other hand, I know that many of these same people (including me, I would like to imagine) are not particularly very stupid people. So I decided to try and delve into possible reasons for this generational difference.

I seek your indulgence while I try to put up a semblance of a defense for our ineptness with gizmos, and discomfort with many of the electronic appliances that proliferate the market today. Consider, if you can, the following facts which must seem absurd to today's  teenager, but which were my world when I was a teenager: 
  • If I was collaborating on a research project with somebody who lived in, say California, I would have to write a letter and wait at least two weeks from the date of posting my letter, before I could hope to have the response from my collaborator.
  • If I wanted to be able to read something at my leisure out of a book shelved in a `for reference only: not for circulation' zone of the library, I had to copy it all down with pen and paper sitting in that reference section. (Reason: I did not see a xerox machine until I went to the US when I was in my early twenties; and I didn't see one in India until I returned here in the late 1970s.)
  • Making a long distance phone call usually necessitated going to a public phone booth - if you were lucky enough to find one in walking distance; and a three minute call from Chennai to Mumbai could set you back hundred rupees or more.
  • If you wanted to buy a train ticket, you had to go to the Central Station and stand in interminable queues before you could hope to get it.

But we old fogeys had our own systems in place. There is a colleague of mine who still does the following things which may seem bizarre to a youngster but he has very valid reasons for doing so
  • Every January, he would faithfully transcribe `to-do' lists and phone numbers from old diaries to current ones. (And many are the times he has quietly smiled when the more `modern' among us lost their mobile phones or electronic organisers, with all their data lost.)
  • in fact, his impeccable system of book-keeping was the only reason we could effectively solve the non-trivial - and often over-determined) problem of scheduling a 15-day International Congress of Mathematicians with some six parallel sessions of about three lectures on each day, as well as a morning session of plenary speakers, etc.
We might not have had computers, smart phones, or iPads and scanning devices, but we did develop the skill of writing, keeping in touch - in a far more meaningful way through well- crafted letters, had the ability of keeping ourselves focused on meaningful pursuits even when all alone on a desert island. Can you imagine a teenager in an area out of network coverage : just imagine no cell phone, no intrnet, no facebook, no ipod, .... (I can already see the onset of withdrawal systems!)


  1. Sundar, I think more than the background, the fact is that most people are just unwilling to learn new stuff as they grow older. It is as though they have decided that their need to "learn" ceases once they get a stable job, and start raising a family.
    For some the "learning" continues but only within their chosen fields.
    Only a few are willing to learn new stuff all the time regardless of their age. Such people are always excited about learning new languages, new skills and hobbies, and also how to cope with new devices.

    1. Thanks Balaji for your periodic and painstaking comments. Also, please spell my name with an `e' and not an `a'.

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