03/05/2004                                          Then and now


There was a time, not too far back, when the radio was the only means of getting the latest news. Most of the early and mid 20th century’s tumultuous events were covered entirely by radio and very few of them were broadcast live. The teleprinter and the telegraph were what press correspondents used to get news to their papers. Today, as I am typing this, my word processor doesn’t recognize the word ‘teleprinter’ and underlines it in red!


We can now see the smallest incident from every nook and corner of the world in glorious color on television in near real time. The media uses the twin miracles of email and the fax. And yet, we can hardly ever be certain of the real truth behind most of these happenings. Who knows what we are seeing on the screen is true or something that has been stage-managed? Those days, just hearing was believing. Today, we’ve can’t even trust our own eyes and ears. It seems as if our entire life floats in a massive bucket of salt.


I used to listen to five continuous days of ball-by-ball Test cricket commentary. You had to literally scrape the radio off my ear after the last day. Now television brings the game live to my couch with instant replays from every angle. And I get bored after the first fifteen overs.


Then there was the postal mail. People used to write to each other all the time. My grandfather found a reason to visit the post office almost every other day. He would stand in line, get postcards and stamps and write long letters to people. Every day he would stand at the door and wait for the postman, a habit that would drive my grandma crazy. Today, we have amazing tools like email and instant messaging. And yet I hardly write to people and receive even less. I have to force myself to even reply to the rare emails that I receive. My messages are growing shorter and shorter. I use short sentences and silly symbols. I get irritated if I receive long messages. In fact, I find I don’t really have too many people to write to.


When I want to send greetings to my friends on occasions and festivals, I use a distribution list or better still, I wait till somebody else sends a message with lots of email ids and then I simply hit the “Reply to all’ button. Still better, I don’t send out greetings at all — who knows who will be offended?


I spend long hours on the Internet but get annoyed if anything takes me more than a minute to read.


I remember the time when the telephone was not the ubiquitous gadget it is today. A telephone call from a loved one overseas was an event by itself. The family would gather around the magical instrument and everyone would try to snatch a couple of extra moments. Today we have every means of such communication at our disposal, Internet phones, mobiles, satellite phones, cell phones, camera phones etc. And yet, I hardly even use my free minutes every month.


It used to take us three days to travel from Bombay to my native place down south. Today you have planes that take you across the Atlantic or the Pacific in a matter of hours. But now, on every plane trip, you are constantly glancing around you, praying that it’s not your last.


Food technology has advanced beyond belief and food is becoming progressively cheaper. Never has the world been so proficient at producing food. And yet eight hundred million people of the world go hungry each day. That is two and a half times the population of America and 75% of India’s.


We are spending billions of dollars trying to discover whether life existed on Mars millions of years ago. On earth, the lives of six million children are snuffed out by hunger each year.