Analog telephone to the Galaxy Nexus.
I belong to a generation that has constantly been in a state of flux. We have been at the vanguard of a technological revolution in India, the likes of which will probably never be seen again. Born around 1990, my generation has seen and experienced a little bit of both Indias. The first India with its monumental bureaucracies, telephone waiting-lists and single-screen theaters and the second India with its glamorous malls and 3G internet connectivity.
One of my earliest memories of technology revolves around the analog telephone. I come from a big family with over 10 cousins. Around the early 90s when the telephone rules started to ease, each of my Uncles started applying for the BSNL telephone connection. We did as well. A few months later, one day after school when my sister and I were alone at home, the technicians came to install a gleaming, green colored telephone, which was the size of a small football. I was stunned! Even though I had seen telephones before and had even used one in my grandfather's house, it was still a great thrill to actually own one! Three days later when the line finally got through, I made my first call to my father at work. When I replaced the receiver after a short call, it was an intensely gratifying experience. I miss that feeling today when I make hundreds of calls each day on my Google Galaxy Nexus.
Television was another major fad in my early years. Even though it had already existed in a small way for many years in India, the early 90s saw the TV finally making its way into the living rooms of the middle class. The first TV we bought was an AKAI color TV. The exquisite colors that that tiny device spewed out seemed almost magical to me as I had only seen B&W TVs till then at my relatives'. Henceforth, every afternoon after school, I would get a quota of two hours to enjoy this awesome gadget.
The TV became the center piece of the house. My sister with her MTV, VTV, me with my Cartoon Network and WWF, my father with his nightly news shows and my grandmother and mother with their soaps. And all of us used to interleave all our requirements together so that the whole family managed to enjoy the TV. From 8pm to 8 30pm, I would sit with my father and watch the news after which my father and I would join my grandmother in watching a TV serial. Finally before hitting the bed, I would get a chance to watch Cartoon Network's final show of the night before transitioning to TNT. Today, I am spoiled for choices when it comes to content or mode of delivery. Each member of the family can watch any show or channel at any time of convenience. People now spend their evenings in their own rooms surfing the net or watching stuff on the laptop. Technology which managed to bring together families in its early years seems to be doing the opposite today. That worries me greatly.
Diwali is a great time of the year in any Indian home. Apart from the festivities, the crackers and the sweets, Diwali is also the yearly shopping period for household appliances. Unlike today, when discounts are a dime a dozen, in the early nineties, Diwali discounts were the only option for bringing high-end electronics into the price-range of the many. Needless to say, the responsibility of researching on what to buy, fell on my sister with able, albeit, enthusiastic disturbances from me. On one year, we had been told that nothing major would be bought. Despite the disappointment, I did not let this announcement dampen the holiday mood and continued with my Diwali celebrations. Suddenly in the evening, my father surprised us with news that we will be leaving for Vasanth & Co, a local electronics chain, in an hour to buy a 'walkman'. My sister explained to me that a walkman was a portable music tape-player and it does not need an electricity connection to work. I did not see the charm of the device, truth be told. We already had a 'grandfather' tape-player that was a three-foot long monster which managed to play tapes and the radio pretty well. But electronics-outings were rare and I managed to get myself pretty excited by the time we reached the store.
After two hours of haggling, selecting, billing and dining at the nearby Saravana Bhavan, we reached home, bursting with curiosity. After keeping the new device in the Puja room for a few minutes and praying for its longevity, I was allowed to rip it open!! Inside was this sleek, black-grey, Walkman that was just about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I started to put a tape of a recent Tamil movie inside, but my mother forbid me. She said the first thing it plays should be a devotional tape. After some discussion, the elders passed to me, a tape of MS singing the classic 'Bhaja Govindam'. I took the tape and tried inserting it, but it just won't go! Under the watchful, glaring eyes of the elders, I started getting tense! What if I had broken the costly device? Even though that seemed impossible, what if we had been sold a defective device and the shopkeeper puts the blame on me when confronted? Nobody listens to a 7 year old's side of the story! My father, notorious for his short temper, snatched the tape from me and asked me whether I had broken it already. Eyes welling with tears, I put the walkman back in the box and stormed to my grandmother's bosom. After a few tense, heavy minutes at home where everyone was silently praying for the device to work, my smart sister noticed that there was a small piece of cushion inside the walkman that was preventing the tape from going in. Once that was removed, the SONY sprung to life with MS's soulful croonings. My spirits as well soared to her notes and in no time I was playing around with the walkman. Many evenings after that were spent with me and my sister sharing the walkman, an earphone each.
My generation is probably the last to have experienced technology as a 'romantic' passion before it started becoming utilitarian. Today, I see my nephews and nieces being at complete ease with an iPad and a Blackberry and it strikes me that the way they view LCDs, tablets and superphones is completely different from the way I viewed the analog telephone, the color TV and the walkman. While I held these gadgets out to be symbolic totems of family progress, they hold their gadgets to be just sophisticated toys. I envy their self-confidence around such advanced, intelligent devices, but I also pity them a little.
Before I explain why, let me clarify, I am not a tech-hater! Au contraire, I LOVE technology! I own pretty much every gadget a guy needs and then some more. I spend my whole day involved with technology. That's probably why I hold my earliest memories of technology, so close to my heart. Technology, even its crude, earthy, analog ancestors seemed more than just parts and wires buzzing together. It seemed something magical and alien. It made our days seem more worthwhile by making us feel a part of a grander design, a grander course of life. When promised diligent and respectful looking-after, the gadgets promised to make us feel special. It was a no-brainer deal. Today, technology controls our lives but it does not command the same respect and adoration. I change my phones faster than I throw away old underwear. I crib when my smartphone lags for 1 sec when loading my tenth webpage. I cringe when I hear my Bose headphones starts jarring at max volumes.
Today, technology works for me and I feel normal. Back then, I worked for technology and ended the day feeling unique. I don't know what I prefer more.