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|January 28, 1999||
Mysteries of digital life
Ours is a totally analogue family; for instance, not a soul amongst the 20-strong possesses that splendid device that keeps fit the mind's eye -- the digital wristwatch. Your friendly psycho's the worst of the lot: I mentally picture a round (preferably white) dial, fix on 12 o'clock, and then count to the goddamn nineteenth or whatever hour. To date, I'm stumped by the 24-hour clock: the defect's called having an English Major brain.
Life's so full of mysteries... I mean, why would anybody apart from those pushing off to the moon, or causing havoc with missiles, or other such everyday-life occupations, want to learn digital hours pat? Why did the sainted editor once change my innocuous "3 pm" to "1500 hours"? Why would anyone want to tote an alarm AND a stop-watch AND a diary AND a pulse-rate meter on the wrist...?
In any case, every desi worth his salt marches to his own, precise, digital time. Notice, eg, in India's cinema halls, that digital watches never *ever* beep the hour in unison. I admit, if one's trapped in a sealed chamber and subjected to sensory deprivation -- and of course it's bound to happen to us now and then -- the gadget could be useful. If you could locate the required switch among the dozen tiny buttons, that is.
Then there's the digital diary: Along with manual-requiringly inscrutable modes and functions, it comes with a cho-chweet QWERTY keyboard, sized for the eager fingertips of a 2-month-old. Another mystery: Who could possibly be using both hands to punch in appointments on a 5-inches-across keyboard...? Why would they provide QWERTY for those who normally have stenos? Why isn't the board arranged alphabetically? After four years of steady two-finger typing, I've yet to unerringly hit Y when I want Y!
The miracle diary could also come with, yes, a spreadsheet. On a 5-inches-across LCD screen. Words fail me.
But best of all is that marvel of modern science, the PiP, which aesthetic term stands for Picture-in-Picture. With, say, a 29" PiP TV, you can have a 6x8 Antaakshari superimposed on Tara weeping on the rest of the screen. Or you can have ten tiny screens, each with a different channel -- but not its sound. I'm sure the technology was conceived with Sybil in mind: Each of her multiple split-personalities would be able to watch his/her own thing, without a power-struggle over the remote control. As for the rest of us, we'll just have to get used to the binocs required to figure out what's happening in the PiPs.
But the latest fad to hit India is the wide-screen TV -- not to be confused with HDTV. The latter's a format available only abroad, which telecasts a wide-screen image. What's being thrust on us is a TV set s-t-r-e-tching out the standard telecast image. So don't brood over why Raveena develops piano-legs on your costly new set, while looking perfectly in proportion on your neighbour's antique box. Who says life is fair?
The audio world has the most variations in hype-sell, most of it totally ununderstood by consumers, none of it useful outside studios, and all of it expensive junk. Woofers, tweeters, equalisers, spectrum analysers, pre-amps, acoustic turbo-systems, chrome tapes, sensurround, wrap-around... I could fill a page with the humbug. Rather like the plug-ins for Winamp: In the end, there's no discernible difference between the before and after since it all emerges from your tiny old speakers.
I'm curious, do people actually have a use for those little green columns jerking up and down to frequencies? The first time I saw one, I was so hypnotised by its dance that I forgot all about the music itself. Since then, I've got an Alpine Scenery postcard taped over the devil-window.
Methinks, even Dolby is a hoax. In my aural experience, it cuts out all the necessary sharpness while doing nothing of any consequence to the hiss. And about its advantages for Indian recording quality -- forget it. Imagine softening Nusrat Fateh Ali's high frequencies... What possibly could? Imagine using any lever but 'Stop' for Shweta Shetty. Frankly, there's no music around which requires anything other than the knobs for treble and bass (and 'Erase'). Unfortunately, these wee things aren't esoteric enough to extend a man's manhood, nor abstruse enough to threaten a woman's femininity. So we endure...
And speaking of femininity, know what set off this techno-musing? It's an appliance called Rotichef, which "Rolls & Cooks Roti In a Min." Naturally, the mater automatically bought one. And let me tell you, it does live up to its claim. But before you waddle out to buy one, do taste the result. First of all, our normal dough won't do -- it has to be one very sticky and wet. And since the roti puffs up in less than "a Min," its thicker side retains all the taste and aroma of the raw atta. Not enough time and heat for so much moistness, guys -- hie back to the drawing board!
I've no doubt that the machine will be a complete hit -- with those with no cooks, no time and even less inclination. Like NRIs. I guess there'll come a day when the mundane craft of rolling thin chapatis and multi-layered parathas will be an esoteric art. That's the other face of technology and progress...
The first time I realised how dangerous science could be was after the advent of the number-storing phone. The upshot of using it is: I don't know the number of even my best friend. Oh I did try to re-learn, but somewhere betwixt, I'd lost the ability to remember strings of digits. I'm convinced that the pertinent memory-cells became lazy and just shriveled up and died.
And speaking of phones, there's the gag! retch! barf! mobile wonder. Yes, mobile phones make me want to vomit. My first encounter with it was in Bangkok: Dumbstruck as I was by the fiery pagodas and glistening emerald tiles of the Royal Palace, a voice floated into my consciousness nevertheless: "Maharaj, aaj raat ko gaathhiye ki daal banaiye..." In the noon sun, an expat housewife was using satellite technology to relay the evidently unpostponable instructions. The next time was at a restaurant in Hong Kong: While our host amused us with small talk, his wife was on the gadget, at the table, loud and clear, cooing her baby to sleep. My hands simply itched to use the chopsticks in more novel ways.
And suddenly, there it was in Bombay. But I wasn't worried about it obtruding in my life; after all, one had screened and chosen one's friends rather wisely... Only, the mobile-phone user has no respect for the phenomenon of selection. At my dentist's waiting room, while I was engrossed in an article on the dentist who deliberately infected his victim with AIDS, a voice cut through: "Su karon chho? Kaaley picture jovanu chhe?" and so on for the next ten minutes, from right next to me. I'd have done anything to wield the drill.
I don't know if you too have your own tales of cellular horror, or if only I'm targeted by such asses. For I've yet another tale: One day, in a hotel lobby, it was impossible not to notice the oh-so-important man, mobile phone glued to his ear, pacing up and down, down and up, deep in serious dialogue. And suddenly, his phone rang! What to say?
Someone said, Bhosle sees red over such things because the grapes are sour. But how?? A Jaguar is a status symbol I may covet, but when its muffler is removed for "maximum effect," what's envious about wanting to take a knife to its tyres?
Anyway. They tell me that there actually exist some categories who do need the mobile phone, and that I remove these from my vomit-list. In your dreams. Have you ever known a doctor to heed an urgent call? So what's about to change now? (True, he'll be able to make golfing appointments from anywhere.) And why can't he use the beeper? Then they say it's a boon for share-bazaar types. Since my only acquaintance with that biz is through Trading Places, even that seems unlikely. Besides, what did they do in the Pre-Cellular Age? Mental telepathy? And now the damn thing enables even online banking, shopping, ticket reservation, e-mail and news services! WHY?
Tycoons, traders, execs, merchants, jewellers, film artists, politicos... it would seem that all these people are so indispensable that they must be within reach at all times! Nobody, not even The Shroud, is. (Wel-l-l... I'm willing to concede that M/s Dawood Ibrahim and Arun Gawli may be excused.) And isn't it these badasaabs who don't accept calls since they're forever "in a meeting," "having a bath" or "just left for the airport"? I thought they detested even the cordless phone!
And how accessible is the user, anyway? Big joke, haha. The mobile-phone number is given out to a chosen handful, and when the phone rings, the caller's number is screened before being answered -- since, in India, it costs a bomb to even receive a call. And what if someone like Vajpayeeji or Dilip Kumar makes a call to a cellphone? Between all the pauses and silences, the receiver's heart must tick faster than the billing meter! Therefore, the machine is mainly used, not to receive, but to make calls. Which galls me to the nth: *They* may disturb your privacy whenever and from wherever they choose, but you may not disturb theirs.
It's strange that in all my travels in the West, I never even noticed the mobile phone. Perhaps not so strange, for Westerners have an in-built horror of trespassing upon other people's space. Here, we haven't heard of the concept. Thing is, the cellphone's not an instrument of work. Along with being the ultimate status symbol, it's a psychological crutch. When you see women strolling through markets with it in hand (when their handbags can accommodate at least a dozen), they're saying: See? Not only can I afford to dish out Rs 80 for a call, but I'm also a popular, needed person. That it's an incredibly stupid price to pay in place of the Rs 2 call, is neither here nor there.
Yes, the march of science worries me; it has too many pitfalls and unholy side-effects. But do I learn? 'Course not. I promptly trash my Remington and go buy a pc, and then keep screwing it up with the latest upgrades and updates and betas. And the performance of that piece of shit is simply begging for its own dedicated column, if you ask me.
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