What if we were to go back to the 80’s

My mum told me a story which moved me and made me think about a bunch of things. Before I tell you those things, here’s the story:

I was born in 1987 in Nashik. Only a few days after I was born, my Dad got a job in Calcutta. He moved from Nashik to Calcutta at a short notice leaving me with my mum and my nani (mum’s mum).

Without dad, my mum and my nani did a lot for me. She developed a very close connection to me spending all day and night taking care of me. Then after three months, my Dad came back to take my mum and me with him to Calcutta.

Suddenly, all the joys of having a baby around disappeared. My nani felt very lonely. At the time, the only means of keeping in touch were letters and trunk calls. Of course, I couldn’t write a letter so the only communication that happened between nani and me was that when, during a very expensive and rare trunk call, she heard me make some noises. That almost always made her cry.

If I were born today, things would have been so different for the relationship that my nani would have developed with me. We would have the modern forms of communication – she could talk to me on the mobile phone even if my dad earned the same salary as then, she could see me grow up on Skype and if she really really missed me she could even take a flight to Calcutta (because they’ve become so much cheaper than those days!).

The story made me wonder about how much technology has affected us. I tried hard to understand what it must’ve been to have a relationship in that era but I am unable to. Sure, people must’ve dealt with it and got on with things. But I am more interested in the quality of the relationship of those times. We may never realise what it meant to long for someone.

I remember my mum telling me that when my Dad went to Europe in the early 80’s, he used to write her a letter a day which she usually received in bunches after a couple of weeks. Letters from India to Europe took even longer and because my dad was travelling, I am not sure how many times he actually heard back from mum. What must it have been to be my dad who had a one-sided dialogue with his newly wed wife for months?

Somehow, I am not sure that everything is better because of newer technology. We seek immediate responses and quick replies. Many have forgotten the art of letter writing. We’ve developed LOLspeak and gotten addicted to IM. Knowing people’s ‘status’ makes us happy even if you don’t know what is really going on their life.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to be a Luddite. Technology has done lots to help. A frequent story that is repeated to show the power of technology is that of an Indian farmer who can now afford to make calls to the local market to figure out a better price for his crop. The grassroots have definitely been strengthened. 884 million Indians have a mobile phone today, that’s 73% of the population!

Even in my case, technology has done plenty. Skype is such a blessing. Every weekend when I talk to my parents for an hour or two, I leave the conversation feeling satisfied. It’s not just about knowing what they are doing but also seeing them and hearing them (so much is communicated through body language).

And yet, stories like the one about my nani make me think about the time without the internet, without mobile phones, without social media… 

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About Akshat Rathi

Akshat Rathi is a science journalist. He has previously worked at The Economist and The Conversation. His writing has appeared in Nature, The Guardian and The Hindu. He has a PhD in chemistry from Oxford University and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai.
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5 Responses to What if we were to go back to the 80’s

  1. Prof. V.C.Malshe says:

    India also has 239 million malnourished children, 400 million child labor, corruption, double digit inflation, money illegally stashed in foreign banks, a parallel black economy, nearly 160,000 crores of fake indian currency coming in India, most likely with involvement of politicians, Worst, it stood second from last in a test carried out on average school children in Maths and language, problem solving aptitude.

    • Akshat Rathi says:

      All very important problems, sir. And yet, the only way to deal with them is to take on one problem and work to solve it. Not easy to do it when other problems which are equally large and important stare at you and mock you, but I can’t see another way out. Can you?

  2. Dhruti Rathi says:

    The way we communicate is revolutionary these days… and like any other revolution brings huge social /psychological changes too along with its benefits.. Instant gratification leading to lack of patience, instant communication leading to lack of clarity in thinking or ability to hold those thoughts before they come out..Maturity in handling social responsibility….

    ..In an odd sense a peace of mind existed when you could not communicate that often, coz you left it to fate and were more easily able to give the person a benefit of doubt, as against when you expect your kids to pick up the phone , the moment parents call..otherwise leading to paranoid parents/partners..

    That one letter from your dad..would definitely have more value to your mom,as probably it came after a long time, her expectations were built up for it.. and she will probably be able to recall her feelings on the receipt of the same much better than we can these days of many moments that happen in our lives..somehow we are losing the ability to cherish the present, the moment, coz of too much of information and too many technological distractions..even disrupting family dinner times.

    ..Until we learn to balance the USE of this technological distraction or our addiction to it..I have a feeling we will be just passing through motions on the social/psychological front..

    Yes the ability to reach out in emergency,medical research or connecting with the wider mind over the internet and communicate with near ones and being able to share is a wonderful feeling and makes them as some of the wonderful holes left by technology but there are some other holes that can become pitfalls..So rather than moving back to 80s – self control and having your priorities right will be the learning skill we need to exercise to have full benefits from this change.

    Before 80s, there were the 60s,..but we did fine..and hopefully we will do fine if we watch out for the pitfalls- otherwise we may end up socially dysfunctional generation…and highly unsatisfied too…in spite of having everything..I am glad to see someone from your generation is getting aware of the probable pitfalls…..Nice thought!!

    • Akshat Rathi says:

      Of course, the 60’s! I can’t even imagine what communication must’ve been like then. And sure, we did just fine. I suppose, at some level, just thinking about these things and acknowledging the fact that some of them need our attention is a good enough way forward.

  3. Pingback: On our digital lives | Contemplation

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