Modernization has come, but at what cost?
For those of us born in the 1950s, the future belongs in our past.
There is that sense of nostalgia which in a number of instances drives our thoughts. And each day that goes by is for us a new reason to recall the times that have been, trapped as we are in the times that are.
A minister has informed us that a time will be soon be upon us when children will not have to carry books to school, for there will be tabs on the screens of which they can access all they need to come by in terms of education.
We realize the technological worth of the age we are part of. Even so, when you imagine a world without books, when you go deep into thought of a time when you cannot recline on your bed or your chair and turn the pages of a book, you cannot but be worried about the vacuity technology could be pushing us into.
Imagine, once more, this time to reflect, darkly, on a futuristic scene of cities and villages without libraries, without bookshops. There will be all those tabs, of course. But no books?
Of course technology, or call it the digital era, has bound nations and societies into a close-knit pattern. Travel has become easier and widespread. Communications have picked up speed, to a point where on our cell phones we have this ancient world of ours on our fingertips. You can access any information you need by a pressing of the many buttons on that cell phone. You can read, if you wish, any newspaper that you think you should.
But then, do you read? Or do you skim through the headlines that take your fancy? On social media -- Facebook, Twitter and what have you -- you can deal with the world, indeed create your own world of ideas that you disseminate at leisure. All of this is cause for profound happiness.
But is it, really? For the babies born in the 1950s, there is all that consciousness of what or how much has been lost through the advent of post-modernism. Think of the times when letters, in clear and patient handwriting, used to be sent to those we loved -- our parents and grandparents and friends. Indeed, the art of writing letters, the style involved, was taught to us in schools. It was that cheerful age of contentment when the written word, per courtesy of the hand, made our universe.
Technology has killed that universe. All these text messages and e-mails have drilled rude holes in the beautiful mosaic of discipline through which we moved from childhood to mature adulthood. People do write, of course. But where writing involved entire sentences, grammatically correct, today it is bonsai writing we button off (if we may use the term) to people all day.
Everything palls. Everything pales. And nowhere is this truth more glaring than in thoughts of what we have lost. Time was when we listened to songs on the radio. And we have, in our 60s, remembered those songs, for they are embedded in the soul.
You remember things that you hear, but when on all those ubiquitous television channels today you see songs as they are sung by people, you know only too well that music in these times is a passing phenomenon.
Let us put it this way: On the radio we heard artistes make melody -- on television today melody is lost under the weight of a celebrity culture divorced from the roots that sustain tradition.
But, yes, road, rail, and air communications have expanded. We do not, any more, get off a bus on the highway and then take a long, exhausting walk through the fields of paddy and jute to our village, all the while keeping an eye on that faraway date palm to tell ourselves how much of a distance we have covered before we can come upon our delighted clan. There are the bridges and the culverts which kill the miles for us.
Yes, our rural ambiance has come to our doorstep, in a manner of speaking. But does that make us happy? We have been enlightened by the idea of our villages being transformed into towns soon. But what about the consequences? Making one’s way out of the city, any city or town in this country, one comes up against a landscape turning stark.
Croplands are being swallowed up by real estate; and where birds once sang and the soil came alive with rice and jute and vegetables, you now have spaces marked off for housing estates, academic institutions, homes for expatriates, and a ubiquity of mills and factories. The village is getting buried under the insensitivity we politely call urbanization.
This is what a child of the 1950s misses.
Monsoon rains flood the land as they have through the ages, but the waters do not bring with them the fish that once were a delight to catch as they swam to the nearest pond or lake.
Fertilizers have given us increased yields of food crops and yet nature has been circumvented in forms and shapes that have undermined heritage.
On an expanded scale, the information highway has opened our window wide to the outside world. Ironically, it has left our historical landscape shrunk almost beyond recognition.
If villages graduate to towns, the pristine countryside will be mere memory, an eerie cemetery of the sublimity of thought that once was our identity. God’s world is being splintered down to men’s parochial desires.
For the child of the 1950s, the endless skies were an impetus to intellectual exploration. Those skies have gone from our lives, in the relentless rise of rude skyscrapers.
Technology has left bad scratches on our dreams, on the shining colours of life’s poetry.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.