I am very comfortable in my zone as a laggard when it comes to adopting and adapting to technological innovations. I took a very long time to convert from my flip phone to a smart phone. Even my current phone is a few versions behind the latest version that is out there. And that is okay. I do appreciate the brilliance, taste and thoughtfulness exhibited by the inventors of these tech products. But it is not something that I will spend too much money on. As I think about it, it is not just the money aspect. Blogger, Facebook and Twitter are all free. Yet, I took my own sweet time. (I do blog (clearly!) and am on Twitter but not on Facebook.) As I think deeper, I think the reasons are two-fold.
One, I have a very small world, with priorities, preferences and interests that hardly need the bleeding edge of technology. There are less than 15 people that comprise my ‘family’, including my "chosen family" - my family of friends.* And, there are just a half-a-dozen bloggers that I actively follow, but I follow them religiously. They give me tremendous joy through their work, they make me think, smile, laugh and in a few instances, have made me tear up (as when one spoke about seeing her newborn pass away in her arms). All of this is to say that when a true ‘connection’ happens, it tends to stay strong and abiding, barring a few isolated instances.
My preferences are quite old-fashioned. I still prefer in-person meetings and phone calls! Heck, I still send handwritten cards to people for their birthdays! I don’t do Facetime (Thank you, Steve Jobs!) except when my family wants to spend time chatting with my son! And even my no-frills HTC phone supports Whatsapp quite well! I spend considerable amount of my leisure hours reading non-fiction but I spend even more time to pause, reflect on and sometimes, write about what a particular book means to me and how it can help me evolve as a person. So, in a given year, I would not have read more than five to six books. I am still most at home reading hard copy versions of books; not a compelling need for any favors from Jeff Bezos there!
And secondly, I have a healthy amount of fear when it comes to modern tech innovations, be it apps or otherwise. Yes, fear. The trepidation stems not from the innovations themselves but how people use them. I just cannot get myself to truly accept the fact that people abuse the comfort of anonymity and dare to do things outside the ballpark of decorum and decency. (Sometimes, it’s not just outside the ballpark but outside the “league” and outside the “sport,” as Samuel Jackson said in “Pulp Fiction!”)
The truth is that this increased connectivity is a double edged sword. It has been utilized in umpteen positive ways and I love the fact that things go 'viral' at the speed of light. When large scale crises happened, such as the Chennai floods or the Jallikattu protests, smart phones, Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook were all used to drive awareness, connect people and mobilize resources in a truly awe-inspiring manner. But by the same token, negativity can go viral so fast that it could give pancreatic cancer cells a run for their money.
The recent crisis involving singer Suchitra Karthik’s twitter account is a case in point. There were some truly appalling content shared about some of Tamil cinema’s top celebrities and some equally disgusting personal attacks by commoners who, with the ‘privilege’ of anonymity, put up insulting and hurtful remarks. There was hardly any display of empathy or even the willingness to be patient enough to find out what exactly was happening. We still do not know what she went through or is going through and even whether the tweets were hers to begin with. Fortunately, amidst all the comments were some truly sane voices such as stand-up comedian SA Aravind, whose comment was at once eloquent, empathetic and touching. He wrote, “Our empathy is any day more important than our curiosity. It really is that simple guys. Think about it and let things be.” It is voices such as his that must resound as loudly as the background score of Singam-3! It is comments such as his that must serve as the panacea that outpaces and curbs the growth of malignant societal tumors such as nastiness and meanness that threaten to destroy every atom of the society’s being and kill its progress.
As I reflect on what this increased connectivity has given me, I consider myself fortunate to have come across people across the globe whose voices I respect, whose writing I admire and whose thoughts help shape my own thinking. And, I am thankful to the different technologies that have eased my lines of communication (pun intended) with the people that make up my little world, despite the geographical distances that stand in our way. At the same time, I wish and pray for a better future for those that are abused in myriad, unfortunate ways. I will continue to hope for a utopian society where abusers can begin to recognize the ill effects of their behaviors. I once came across a lovely quote, “Everybody has a chapter that they don’t read out loud.” While people might be exposing themselves by opening up their own wounds in public, what we may be seeing is only a line from that “chapter” of their life. What led to it and what follows it might be things that we will never, ever know. But for now, let’s not judge the book by a few painful 140-character lines in a very difficult chapter. That, right there, would be the ultimate insult to not only the pioneers behind these technologies but also to humanity itself.
* - In a recent tweet, Anu Hasan referred to her friends as her "chosen family." I loved that choice of words, hence its inclusion here.