Technological Revolution: No Internet aka The Dark Ages

The topic for the day, well actually night, is life moving from the dark ages into the light.

My journey with technology really started when I was a kid, as is usually the case. My professional tryst with technology, is nothing but fate and circumstance. Nowhere on the distant landscape did technology seem to be on the horizon, yet here we are. Sumir Nagar – Chief Operating Officer & Global Delivery Head.

The childhood skirmishes with technology mainly consist of me taking things apart, and more often than not, failing to put them back together in working condition. Radios, cassette players, cars and bicycles (of course) included.

It even involves, yours truly, trying to peel off the coating of a speaker wire, which was nothing but a live wire. Stick wire in mouth, to strip coating, wet tongue contacting bare live wire, bzzzzzzz, Sumir falling off rather tall ladder, and bringing down the stereo speakers he’s trying to fix. Fortunately no broken bones, just a strange buzzing feeling throughout every fibre of my being.

If only that moment could have been caught on film, it would have got a lot of eyeballs on You Tube and then some. Minor detail, no You Tube, no Facebook, no social, and even more ghastly, no internet. Really no internet? Did such a time even exist? How quickly we forget, don’t we? Well for those of us “old” enough. Here comes Minton, saying “how old are you bro?”, and Lisa saying, “you posted it I didn’t”. So lets set that little item to rest… I am all of 54 years old. Happy people?

For the generation that has seen technology in the palm of your hand almost from birth, boys and girls I would like to say that, there was a time when there was no internet, and even worse, no cellular phones, only landlines to contend with, not to speak of the challenges of actually getting a landline (at least in India, way back).

Yes people, those were the Dark Ages, very dark.

Those were also simpler times, when family actually spent time doing fun stuff, actually spending quality time together, actually having meaningful conversations with each other, face to face. But this is not about lament, it’s about my experience of seeing technology actually take shape and come into an age of self driven cars and delivery by drone.

Technology has changed every single aspect of our existence, from the way we write and run computer programmes, to the kind of cars we drive, to the kind of bicycles we ride. How we have seen the music scene changing, from valve based radios, to circuit boards, from vinyl to spool decks, to eight track, to cassette tapes, to CD’s to Blue Ray, to internet based music.

Have you ever used a box camera, that too black and white, and graduated to polaroid, to SLR, to DSLR, to phone based cameras, and now comes the Moto Z Play with the Hazelblad camera Mod attachment! What a fantastic journey. Have you ever developed roll after roll (rather expensive) and then moved to viewing the photographs on screen, with the ability to edit?

We now exist in the world of the app, and increasingly find that there is an app for every little thing we can think about, even down to how we date. Swipe left for no, swipe right for yes?

This is the year of ’78 or maybe ’79, and I am first exposed to computer programming. There was this kindest, sweetest, most learned teacher in New Phila High called Mr. Winn, and he taught me the basic tenets of programing.

I often narrate this to the current gen of developers (we call then coders when we speak unkindly of them). I tell them to imagine shading punch cards, which are then punched and sorted, and are then fed into a punch card reader, from where we cut a ticker tape, from where we record a cassette tape, which is then put into this computer called a Wang, and we actually run the programme.

If the programme fails, and mine almost always did, you end up shading the cards all over again, and going through the abovementioned rigmarole again and again till we got it right. Mistakes were expensive and time-consuming, unlike now, when all you need to do is delete/comment, rewrite code, compile and run the programme again, all in a matter of seconds. Better yet, with the modern-day UI and drag and drop features available with the intelligent developer tools, you can actually see the impact of the code changes you make in real-time or near real time.

Now this is not an old vs younger generation thing, but it has been my observation and experience, that due to the fact that you could ill afford to get things wrong (the cost of rework being high and time-consuming), you did tend to be more particular and diligent, and more often that not, get things right the first time, whereas in the current scheme of things, you can rework things really easily, and therefore are more careless, less diligent, and tend not to do things right the first time out. Also we weren’t on FB, WhatsApp, Snapchat and what have you, so we were less distracted when we worked.

How many of us remember the old idiot boxes and have seen them move from black and white to color, and now to smart TV’s dishing out content on demand?

Call me daft, but I would easily regress into a world devoid of cellular phones, but I don’t think I would do away with computers. I use the cellular heavily and even carry two, but that’s just to separate work from personal. I think it’s a respect thing as well, if I message you before I call, it is to see if you’re busy or are able to speak with me. I get real irritated when people tell me things like, I saw that you read my message a long time back but you didn’t respond until much later. What frigging gives? My response at the extreme is simple, the damn device was paid for by me, the bills are paid by me, so I pretty much will damn decide when and IF I message you back! Such is my aversion to unwanted intrusion, that my WhatsApp is on my Dubai number, and that is one I really don’t give to everyone. I also have a secret number which I give ONLY to family and those who I care about, respect and trust implicitly. That that’s a really small number. Attitude you say? I say YES.

I must say that my generation has been most fortunate to have seen the old world or Dark Ages), devoid of all the needless distractions, and in later years see the technology transformation changing the way we work and indeed live. It’s like we were on the cusp of the old world transcending into something fascinating. Our cup of fortune runneth over as we now are seeing the advent of technological advancement into disciplines like Artificial Intelligence, space tourism, and seeing the efforts of Elon Musk and his like, force yet another transformation of how we live, think and indeed live.

Then is the generation preceding ours who got kinda left behind, but there are a few of them who had and have a keen desire to at least understand, if not catch up, to an era that’s changed around then so very rapidly that they are shell-shocked.

I allude to people like my father, all of 88 years, who printed out the entire user manual of the smart phone we presented him, just so he could operate the damn thing, and how he only recently purchased a laptop and sits day after day to study it and get it to do what he wants out of it. I must say I’ve been impatient with him at times, when he asks questions that to me are so very basic, that we don’t even think about it. There are two people who get a vote of thanks and gratitude for my foray into computer science, my father and my buddy Harish. Harish, because he literally begged, if not bullied me into buying a PC XT, dual floppy drive et all. My father because he somehow cajoled me to enroll for a Diploma Course from NCC when I was but a teenager, or maybe just after.

The XT gave way to the AT, which stood down for the 386 and then the 486. Storage and memory at a bare minimum, from floppy disk, to mini disk, to hard drives, to flash drives. Amazing changes, and the advancements continue.

It seems to me that I’ve been spared the same disapproving looks from my kids, who have been kind enough on occasion to label me, “the most tech savvy father” from amongst my peer group. I guess I thank my lucky stars that my life did take me on a technological journey, most meaningful, even though I didn’t see technology anywhere on the horizon during my early years. And that fortune is even more amplified (if that’s the word I’m seeking), when I can say I’ve worked in the business, operations and technology, have lived and worked on four continents, and have worked for the vendor community and the captives as well.

I’m at a crossroads of sorts now, and I sit scratching my head to figure out what I’m going to do next. I just hope that my journey is as exciting as its been, reversals and all, and I continue to learn new things, have new experiences and continue to come up trumps.

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