Friday, January 27, 2006

Digital Demigods

Digital Demigods

The other night, I was watching news on the telly with my family. The reporter was droning on about some politician’s visit to a home for handicapped. Bored, I picked up the day’s newspaper and successfully shut the idiot box out of my mind. After a while, I was startled to hear my daughter call out excitedly “Dad, now I know what you are!”

I froze mid-action. What black deeds from my past have finally seen the light and camera of these television reporters? I wondered. You can’t tell these days, with so many sting operations going on! I was trying to remember something I might have done that was worthy of attention of a news channel.

Could it be my first love affair that I had so successfully hidden from my wife? I didn’t think so. Nobody knew about it except me. Not even the girl I was in love with! She didn’t even know my name, I was sure. It was love at first sight when I had seen her at the bus stop, waiting for her school bus as I was waiting for mine. Every morning I would spend few minutes looking at her and then we both would board different buses to our respective schools. And the “love affair” had lasted just for a few months, as schools change after fourth grade. Yes, we both were ten at the time. Hardly worthy an affair for prime time television, I thought.

Had they finally found out who had drawn that neatly labeled caricature of our biology teacher on the blackboard of my ninth grade classroom? Nah, that was years ago. Must be something new!

Could it be that the Income Tax department had found out about the necklace…! Can’t be that. Though my wife thinks she is wearing a real diamond necklace that I gifted her on our last wedding anniversary, I know its real worth. Income Tax officials are definitely smarter than my wife.

So what in God’s name it could be? I was still thinking hard when my daughter switched the television set off and sat next to me. “Now I know dad, what you are. You are an SMS challenged person!” she said with conviction.

Hugely relieved to hear this, I sighed deeply. Yes, I can be called that, I admitted. In today’s jargon nobody is short; they are vertically challenged! So definitely I am an SMS challenged guy. I couldn’t type an SMS if my life depended on it. For me, a phone is for talking, period. I grew up with those black bulky monsters with rotating dials and the receivers designed with weight lifters in mind; if the designers had something resembling a mind, that is. For me, a mobile phone or ‘cell’ as it is called now, is just a smaller version of those monsters, without a spiral wire attached. They let you talk to people whenever you wish. What more could one wish for?

The best way of communication is face to face, I firmly believe. You can watch the other person’s reaction to what you say. You can judge whether they are lying, or they are sincere, happy, sad, excited, bored. You can learn so much from their body language! A phone deprives us of all these opportunities. Yet, there is at least some personal touch in a voice call. If it is difficult to meet physically, then voice call is the next best thing. Voices too laugh and cry, smile and lie. But an SMS brings arctic cold to our casual communications. And the menace of unsolicited advertisements! It will give me immense pleasure to strangle the fellow who thought of putting that SMS thing in mobile phones.

Maybe because I hate them so much, but I can’t fiddle with those microscopic keys to type one straight word. Some evil fellow with a weird sense of humour has assigned the same key to three or four different letters! I start typing and the thing runs ahead of me, finishing the word before I begin! Hey wait! I didn’t mean to type this word, I shout at it. My daughter tries to teach me, but to no avail. I throw my hands up and the phone down, every time I try.

I have seen people juggle a lit cigarette, a doughnut and a pen in one hand while with the other they hold a briefcase and a cell phone, typing furiously with their thumbs on the tiny device with concentration befitting an ancient sage. Some mutant genes at work, may be. The guys must have ten fingers on each hand. Give me a full sized computer keyboard anytime. I can handle that.

But that too was not always so, I remembered with a smile.

Those were the days when computers were not so commonplace. My construction business was running all right without any need for digital diligence. One day a salesman walked into my office with brochures depicting a mightily powerful 286 machine. “Look here sir, you can do so much with a computer in your office! You can write letters, draw building plans and even play a game! Our computer has the latest chips, a whopping 120 MB hard disk and one full megabyte of RAM. Every office on the block is buying one.” He went on. The fellow wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Patiently I heard him. Finally I said, “This computer thing can do anything, it seems. It is just like God, isn’t it?” The man nodded vigorously, the broad salesman-smile firmly pasted on his face, as he anticipated a sale. “Well then, this settles it. I am an atheist you see. I don’t believe in God. And yet, I live quite happily in this world purportedly created and owned by Him. So I believe I can get by without this digital demigod of yours. Thank you.” I had said with a straight face.

© Rajendra Pradhan

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