Lessons from the Technologist’s Mother
Lessons from the Technologist’s Mother
Living in a wonderland of electronic gadgets, 3G phones and handheld organizers, a selfproclaimed Technologist messes his life; to learn some conventional wisdom from his technologically-blind mother…
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘ That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
‘ Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
– From Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
I begin with an intimate confession of mine. While every living soul on the planet is waiting eagerly for summer sunshine and clearer blue skies, I have one good reason to dread it. Though ridiculous as it may sound, I earnestly believe that the people who go through similar trauma can truly comprehend the intensity of it. The question is that in the absence of my winter jacket, how in the world can I possibly accommodate five bare essential gadgets in the tiny pockets of my summer jeans?
Speaking comparatively, Maajee belongs to an entirely different specie. An old retired lady in her early 60’s, she still prefers jotting down her appointments, notes, task lists and telephone numbers neatly in a small red pocket diary. Where my Palm Tungsten T5 handheld boasts a massive 416 MHz processor, to potentially handle a database of all the addresses under the sun, this outrageously mundane diary merely comprise of 26 pages; one tiny page allotted to each alphabet. Maajee belongs to the rare and endangered generation of homo-sapiens who still consider it utmost important to write “Dear” before addressing anyone and end her e-mail with “Kindest Regards”. Being naïve to the cyberspace, she occasionally sends a regret letter to the spammers in reply to their junk mails, elucidating why she is not interested in their cheaper car insurance quote. Where Since this is an account of my true personal experience, I have avoided using a fictitious name for my mother. ‘Maajee’ means ‘The Venerable Mother’ in my native language which I am using deliberately, since Mom, Mum, Madre and Mata simply fail to do justice describing the person herself. While my e-mails consist merely of few words, mostly acronyms and abbreviations; her replies are many times more verbose and complex. Considering the use of spell-check and acronyms an unpardonable offence, she adorns her e-mails with pompous words that are usually not found in the Concise Version of Oxford English Dictionary.
However one recent incident forced me to reconsider the trust worthiness of all my technological prized possessions. To safeguard my PC from the potential threat of a date sensitive time-bomb virus, I committed the cardinal sin of changing the date settings of my PC a few days backward. However, my terrible blunder divulged upon me a far more profound definition of the word network, which I was unaware of. Little did I realise that since my computer was connected to my laptop via WiFi which was connected to my Palm Pilot via Bluetooth, all my devices were showing a last month’s time. Regardless of whose fault it was, the gist of the matter was that my MS Outlook had not only created an absolute chaos; messing up all my schedules, appointments and task lists, but had also created various appointments that I had never heard before. Before I had to face more embarrassment for my dentist’s appointment, Maajee took out the same old red diary to tell me the appointment time, which was neatly scribbled in it. Though she never uttered a word, she had passed the message implicitly. Despite being loaded with more organisers, palm pilots and pocket PC’s, my life has never been messier.
While I have an insatiable lust for every breakthrough computing technology that arrives in the high streets, Maajee is well-contented with her 5 years old iMac. Aestheticism is vital, so she is remains indifferent regarding the cutting-edge processing technology inside the box; as long as the colour of machine goes along with the interior décor of the room. Where my Dell Power Machine is supplemented with massive amplifiers, gaming devices and numerous value-add-ons, her most admired computer accessory is vase of red roses that adorns her ruby-coloured iMac. On technical specifications, her old iMac features a barely sufficient processor of 233 Mhz, which remains almost equivalent to the processor installed in the chipset of my Smartphone. Unconvinced by the sales force of all Internet Service Providers that she should upgrade to broadband, she is well-contented with her old dial-up connection. Ironically speaking, the time it takes her to connect to the internet using a dial-up line, Bill Gates makes a little fortune of $4000! ($400 per second x 10 seconds).
However despite all the cutting-edge technologies in my PC, there is always a day, usually near my deadlines (courtesy of Murphy’s Law), when my PC’s mighty processing power is unable to save me from a total technological pandemonium. A day when I realise that my PC is virtually a battle ground between all the Viruses, Trojans and Spywares Vs. Firewalls, Antivirus softwares and Spyware-removing utilities. Ironically, while my antivirus does provide me some extremely enlightening information that my PC is infected with every single virus that originated somewhere on this planet, it does little to actually eliminate them. At this very moment, Maajee’s old faithful iMac comes to the rescue. Unlike my computer that runs every single shareware in the world, her iMac features a handful of essential softwares only. With a clean configuration and a tidy desktop with few icons, her computer does fewer tasks indeed, but far more smoothly. After completing and submitting my dissertation, I begin to look for any Artificial Intelligence software that could emulate her organizational skills to put my files and folders to order, but my futile search actually lands me into more Spywares and Malwares.
Speaking of telecommunications, while I have switched a dozen mobile phones already over a span of 2 years, she remains entirely sceptical of the usefulness of this very innovation. My current Smartphone is a simply the pinnacle of technological revolution. Merely weighing 120g, it runs a 200Mhz processor and a Windows CE operating system. It plays MP3, makes Video Calls, features downloadable e-books, records video clips with a 1 mega pixel camera and also features a multimedia album software to display my photo albums. An Infra-red port and Bluetooth connectivity are one of the few add-on features it comes along. Perhaps it would have been a wonderful gadget if it could do one more function properly; making phone calls. Designed to accommodate a myriad of extra features, the phone’s miniature keys are simply too impractical to make ordinary phone calls, something for which I have to switch to my mother’s old BT landline. Since my mother believes in using her own memory instead of the phone’s for recalling contact numbers, her phone is naturally a rudimentary piece of equipment that comes without an LCD display and quick-dial options. A few days later, she shows me an article in The Times that claims that text messaging and using ‘always online’ technologies, owing to their continuous distracting of human brains, can actually adversely affect IQ level by 10 points. Conceding that she is right, I wonder why I did not realise in the first place that having always-available state-of-the-art technologies do not necessarily imply that you have to use them day and night also.
Being a technologist, I earnestly believe that the advent of radio-chip technology is not far from reality, which will allow all the items in the cart to be added in ledgers in a single go. By eliminating the need to individually place every product under barcode reader, it will make the shopping process radically quicker and hassle-free. Also being an avid admirer of online shopping, I simply fail to comprehend how in today’s hectic world one could possibly roam around Oxford Street peeping into shops’ displays and trying on every single couture on the racks. With my profile being stored on the database of various clothes e-tailers like Yoox.com, I usually buy my clothes online. With my personal login, the online shop knows the size of my clothes from head to toe. With the click of a button, I browse through various colours and designs and order via my credit card. Though I receive my order the very next day, it is appalling to see that the colours do not look half as good on me as they looked on the supermodel on the website. Feeling disgusted, I send the things back through the return envelope.
As for my mother, the entire idea of online shopping is not only alien but absurd as well. Not being a supermarket kind of person at all, she loves shopping offline at the small corner shops that do not accept Visa and MasterCard. During Christmas she always insists that I should accompany her in shopping. A moment of true pleasure for her, it is certainly one huge test of my patience. Her most-loved moment is when she cleans a shop’s window, by making a small circle on the frost, to have a peek inside the display. Looking at her, I wonder why even online shopping is more of a hassle to me, contrary to being a source of joy like her. In order to familiarize her to the convenience of online shopping, I send her a gift through Amazon.com. However, I realised soon that the hard beige packing box was way too robust for her feeble hands to be broken. Giving up on the idea of her making online purchases, I decided not to break her customer loyalty with an old book shop; where books are not only read but also felt, touched and smelt before being bought.
Where I do have a preference for organically grown food, primarily owing to the reason that they are trendier nowadays, Maajee considers it a sin to use any mechanism that meddles with Mother Nature’s ways. Where most people shop for genetically modified flower seeds for higher germination rate, she is well contented with the conventional low-priced seeds, half of which go in waste. “All trees are not meant to bear fruit”, she quotes from some holy scripture. “It is the nature’s decree that some of the fruit must perish to become nourishment for the other fruit-bearing trees”. Brought up amongst theories of maximum efficiency and effectiveness, I simply cannot comprehend her philosophy at all. Until I read in the paper that it has been scientifically proven now that the DDT pesticides and higher germinations seeds have been a major cause of various kinds of cancers.
Looking at Maajee, I feel that the paradox of this Information Age is that albeit we are loaded with Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs, MS Outlooks and dozen other personal organizing consoles, our lives are unarguably a mess. Certainly, Information Technology has brought us more information but has also lessened our knowledge and judgment. Today, we do flaunt our Jukeboxes and iPods, capable of holding 5000 Mp3 songs, but little we realize that the more MP3’s we have, the less music we actually enjoy. Where technology has dramatically enhanced the amenities of our lives, it has deprived us of the conventional wisdom. It has given us wider range of commodities and brands to choose from, but has deprived us of the common sense that is getting uncommon everyday. It has given us convenience to order books at the click of a mouse; but it has taken away from us the little pleasures of life. Struck deep into a quagmire of rationalities and reasonings, today we do admonish the genetically modified foods, but little we realize how today’s technologies has mentally modified us all
Today, entangled between curves of economics, business models, epistemologies and ontologies, perhaps we have forgotten that for the most complex of the problems, the solution remains so simple that it is often overlooked. As I explain my profound System Theory and Theory of Everything to her, Maajee seems totally indifferent. She keeps focusing her attention on the woollen jersey which she is knitting. “The Truth is not in curves, models and paradigms”, she utters slowly in monologue. “It is simple as a dot”.
Considering the precedence of many years, where the verity and depth of her conventional wisdom has always overshadowed my superficial understanding of the world, I am bound to think upon the gravity of her thought-provoking statement. Perhaps Bob Mooreheadi was right when he astutely stated these words about the dilemma of today’s life:
“We have been all the way to the moon, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space; we have cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we have split the atom but not our prejudice. We plan more, but accomplish less…(And) We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less…”.
- Horsnell, M. “Why texting harms your IQ.” The Times April 22, 2005.
- Moorehead B. (1995). “Words Aptly Spoken:”The Paradox of Our Age”.
- Deutsch, C. H. and B. J. Feder “The New York Times.” A Radio Chip in Every Consumer Product February 25, 2003.
i The text appears in the book, “Words Aptly Spoken”, by Rev. Bob Moorehead. It has been falsely attributed to Kathleen R. Campbell-Kelley, before his shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 and also to comedian George Carlin, who denies it on his website. The 1995 book written by Moorehead is a collection of prayers and sermons.