Technological Revolution: No Internet aka The Dark Ages

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.

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.

The Joy and Pain of Parenting

I believe that unwittingly we have set them up to deal with a whole lot of things that we haven’t equipped them to deal with. We expected that our values, our beliefs, our culture would somehow be passed on to them without actually taking the trouble to impart any of it.

Now I’ve had a rough childhood, and for that matter had it rough growing up as well.

Before the peoples go off on a tangent, when I say rough, it has nothing to do with abusive parents! Quite the opposite in fact, loving, tough but fair about sums it up. Though my darling mother did have a penchant for swatting me (hard) with whatever came into her hands! Boy oh boy, did I get beat up! But no broken bones, and no erosion of love, so it’s all good.

I’m talking about my kids. See pics. These are from an age, when they were very young and very innocent, not contaminated by my circumstances, by my decisions, by my indiscretions, nor for that matter, by this age of instant gratification that we live in today, and the poor kids have been brought up in.

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How many of us really remember that sometime in the distant past, we were truly in joy about ourselves, our kids and in general? Being a parent was such joy, it wasn’t a case of constantly being on high alert!
 That changed as we grew and they grew, didn’t it?

Well I was a paret even before the kids came along. See, my kid sister Shruti is fourteen years younger, and I’d been through the changing diapers, studying with, teaching, drop and pick up duty, being on high alert bit already.

We talked about the generation gap when I was younger, and how our parents couldn’t seem to understand us, and now I can well imagine that my kids probably think the same way.

Save of course my daughter, Keertana, who thinks I am receding into my second childhood, and have the mind of a 12-year-old! Which may well be true by the way.
 So they probably have it hard, understanding my twelve-year-old mind.

So what prompted this entry? A host of things. My age (not young), the kids growing up, the little fella, Kartikeya, in junior college now (on the verge of graduating), the girl pursuing her Masters’ Degree in Psychology, and Krishanu, the accomplished photographer.

Bhavna and I were once visiting with his photography school professor, taking about his prospects, how he had fared, and the like, when the professor brought up the generation discussion.

So the professor says, that our of a class of 40 something, there are only 2 students who seem to be driven, and are possessed, and have the hunger to succeed beyond their own expectations. If that is a statistic, then I’m a bit, no let’s face it, very worried!
But permit me to set the right context first, and with that away we go on a ramble through my thoughts, but the public who has time to read my drivel is used to that by now…..

When my son Krishanu visited me in the UK, I took several days off, and took him around, spent quality time with him. I’ve been a keen amateur photographer, and so the DLSR went along with us, to save those precious moments that we spent together. That’s where he caught the bug, and soon the DLSR wasn’t mine no more, and I happily gave it away.

What I didn’t know was that the shutter-bug had bitten him, and during on of my visits home, over a cup of coffee, my son told me he wasn’t happy with his academic pursuit of Statistics, and wanted to do something different. Gasp! Pause! Choke! What??? WTF is more like it actually.

But one thing I admired about him is that he had to courage to come up to me and tell me, what was on his mind, even though it was earth shattering news, if not to me, to his mother, and my parents as well.

Guys and Girls, we are Indiana, we live in India, and even though we are fairly cosmopolitan and occidental in our thinking, the “what no degree?” syndrome is very prevalent and ingrained into our psyche.

But I was loath to impose upon him what he should do, and so I thought about it and in a few minutes decided to support him. The boy-man was finding himself, and this was part of the process.

The family of course reacted. In the melee was da mudder, da grande mudder, da grande father, da auntie, well actually two. Oh! And I forgot the da grande parents from his mothers’ side completely! So for those of you who have now not been spared the family drama, you can well imagine the proceedings, and the festivities! It wasn’t pretty.

But with support from my sagacious father, we prevailed and Krishanu gave up his academic pursuit and took up photography. And not just any photography, he wanted to do wildlife and nature, to add to the complications. Well in a way I was greatly relieved that he wasn’t swayed by so-called the glamour of fashion photography.
 It’s a completely different matter, that he found his calling in street photography, and that too night photography. I’d better ask him if that’s changed as well.

Now I must admit and I think he will too, he was a bit confused and didn’t quite know how to go about it, and so the querying began. I pulled in my contacts, and through them went and met two of India’s leading photographers, and a classmate of mine who is one of India’s leading film producers. Advise sought, fashion and glamour ruled out, so what next?

So apart from reading and simply shooting pictures, he took a few primer classes and soon he told me that photography was his chosen profession. But that course didn’t really excite him, and then one day, someone told him about this new school that was run by professionals and they would teach commercial and photo-journalism! That was it and he enrolled for the rather inexpensive one year course. 
After that came the final stint (maybe).

Now should I add to all this by saying that the media school was based in Bangladesh, and was famed as the leading school in Asia? Bangladesh? Yes! You heard right!

So that’s the background…the situ is that he has the talent, he’s got the skills, but he’s still struggling, and it seems as if his generation has the same problem. That’s what this is really about, it’s not about Krishanu per se, though he’s the victim of the piece.

I’ve talked about this with other parents, with kids, with some young, bright and really intelligent people who work with me, and it just seems that they have real problems dealing with the way things work. They don’t want to go through the grind, they don’t want to put in a structured effort, they want to wing it, they don’t prepare, they are argumentative, they seem to think they know it all, they lack respect, they lack the basic values that we (ye older generation) were brought up with. They are aggressive, some of them at least, they are extremely frustrated, they are over dependent on technology, and this can go on and on and on…..

How has it come to this? Why has it come to this? Can we change this or is it too late?
I can’t but help believing that we are to blame.

I believe that unwittingly we have set them up to deal with a whole lot of things that we haven’t equipped them to deal with. We expected that our values, our beliefs, our culture would somehow be passed on to them without actually taking the trouble to impart any of it.

I believe that this has transpired because our generation was on the cusp of greatness. Whereas we were still trained in the old traditions, we were able to adapt and live a dual existence, one that was traditional and has the underpinnings of all its benefits, and at the same time exploit the technological advances to our benefit both personally and professionally.

We saw our parents slog, slave and sacrifice for our benefit, and we worked very hard so we did not have to suffer the same plight. So instead of spending quality time with the kids and family, we spent a lot of that time chasing a dream of wealth and of a happiness that wealth could buy. And in that process we severely handicapped the very people we were working so hard for.

We allowed that onslaught of social networking to command an irreparable influence over our kids, and they live and breathe the concept of instant gratification. Their belief in GOD (Gratification on Demand) is absolute, and anything that stands in the way gets shot down.

The constant onslaught of media and the marketing juggernaut, the sensationalization of trivial issues and the setting of unachievable expectations through these channels builds the peer pressure, to have more, to want more, to possess and to live a life beyond normal sustenance. And that has in turn impaired the ability to think rationally and has caused irrational behavior.

Of course GOD (Gratification On Demand), is a hard task master, and all but the very wise succumb, end up frustrated, confused and think it’s too late to make amends.

The amends are easy to make, go back to the ethic of hard work, diligence, consistency and work up the stamina to pursue things through to their logical conclusion. The results are bound to follow, if only we set aside the false notion that we can be wildly successful straight out of school.

There are too many stories of dropouts becoming millionaires and even billionaires, and the sooner they realize that, these cases are exceptions and not the norm, we will see the balance swing back to a semblance of sanity.

Back to parenting…..I never was able to really see, to truly realize how my parents surely suffered as I was finding my way, but when I suffer seeing my kids find themselves, ever so painfully, I can now realize what I put my dear parents through. And I was a radical and still am in many ways, and that wasn’t easy on them either.

My kids? They are a darling lot. They are not tainted by several ills, save few, of the modern influences, but, making it in this age of acute competitiveness, isn’t easy on them.

I was able to let go and let then find their way, because I remember what my dad would always say. Give then a strong foundation, and stray they might, but will always find their way back home.

It’s not that I don’t worry, that I am not concerned, but as far as possible I don’t give them grief, much too much to the disappointment of their mother and mine as well. It’s a regular conversation, that I should be tough on them, simply because they fear me to some extent. But I can’t, nay I refuse to be this fearsome father figure. I prefer to be a friend, philosopher and guide, and that’s what I’m going to stick with. I have faith and confidence and trust, that struggle they will, but make it they will too.

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