Friday, June 5, 2015


Facebook just pointed out the many advantages of reading literary fiction; of course, I had to share that on my wall; that is so me! Of late, when I have a few minutes between sets of ungraded papers, waiting for a call back from the pharmacy, or just trying to unwind after a whirlwind day, I find myself scouring Facebook.

Now there is nothing extraordinary or new about this. I would not exaggerate if I claimed that this behaviour is quite common for the 21st century homosapien. It is a sign of the times that I split the people I know into two main group, those on Facebook and those who resist. Since I belong most definitely to the former, I despair of ways of keeping in touch with the latter. Surely, I am not expected to do something primitive like actually making a voice call? My students would shudder at the very idea. After all, even if one were to dial the number (is that phrase obsolete?), what would one say? Every time I do make a voice call, I am aware of an underlying wish that the person I am calling would not pick up, that I could just leave a succinct message and hang up to end the awkward experience. I am also aware that, like the rest of my Gujarati family, I tend to speak louder when I talk on the phone, the logic involving a physics formula about the complex relationship between the volume of the voice and the distance it has to travel. The end of such a call, inevitably, is accompanied with a distinct awareness of the needlessly high tones that one has to own up to.

No. Let us connect on Facebook instead. Or perhaps text. Surely, you have downloaded WhatsApp on your smart phone? Why involve something as personal as, as strange as disembodied voices?

One of the TV channels I watch proclaims Vasudhaiva Kutumbekam (world is one family) as its tag line. I cannot think of a better descriptor for the globalization that I take for granted, an idea that my younger self could only sigh over while watching Star Trek. My child posts pictures from her phone onto my Facebook wall so that now, I know what the EU headquarters in Brussels look like; my cousin FaceTimes with us from Vadodara so that his toddler can show us his new toys; my Google+ holds our clan's photo albums; my Geni informs me when a birthday nears; I can even borrow books from my county library on my Kindle while waiting for my flight connection at Heathrow.

A few of my friends are disappointed at the direction the world seems to be taking; the figure of Darth Vader seems to personify this fear of losing our humanity to technology, very much like the Minotaur expressed the ancient Greek's fear of losing humanity to the beast within. This is a valid fear, of course. However, if being part machine helps us become more human, does it not make the machine more human than the other way around? Take pacemakers or dialysis machines, for example. Would we be willing to go back to a world without those? I remember typing up papers with carbon sheets ensconced in between, which copious gallons of whiteout could not salvage. If given a choice, I would never go back to those days! Many fictional re-creations of post apocalyptic stories explore what the world would be like without the present day's communication channels. My blood runs cold with fright when I read those.

I cannot imagine that devices that help us communicate in varied ways can be essentially malignant. Certainly, some people will misbehave and misuse these devices; however, do we let the fear of misbehaviour guide us? Is it even in our nature to do that? History is evidence that we have always looked for ways to make the world smaller; thanks to Facebook and smart phones, this world is at our fingertips, and it is up to us to expand it exponentially until it becomes real or to contract it to a thumbnail.

I am grateful that I live in the same age as these devices. Worlds I had thought were lost to me have been returned a thousand fold; I am thinking of ancient legends, the dance form I was trained in (Kathak), my favorite painting genre (Indian miniatures), Hindi songs and films from the 1960's, and garbas or Gujarati folk dance music so ancient that most lyrics are derived from oral history. One can enjoy the Gregorian Chant and Sanskrit shlokas with the same crystal clarity as though they were being spoken in one's presence. I can find ancient trade routes or recreate a festival day of an Indonesian wife without much trouble. I wouldn't be able to spark my students' interest in Greek Mythology or Folk Tales if I couldn't bring up Google Images of Echidna or Baba Yaga.

I could go on, of course. I do so love the times I inhabit, may the Luddite gods forgive me! I fail to imagine what the next half decade will bring, but I am very excited about it.

Now my patient reader must excuse me. I must go back to preparing a collection of my favorite garbas on my flash drive so that I can plug it into my car and listen to these ancient lyrics on my way to work. After that, I must find a kidney friendly recipe from websites recommended by my online support group, transfer money between accounts, and order a birthday gift from Amazon; I must flex my fingers and send them racing across the keyboard, and the world I manage. In between these chores, if you are on Facebook, I might wander in and say a quick Hey.


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