Monday, 7 November 2011

Necessity Is Mother Of All Inventions?


We were told from our school days that necessity is mother of all inventions. Like ‘Pen is mightier than sword’ this also used to be a main topic for essay writing in both the major languages- Hindi and English. This adage appears to be true when one sees practical application of many an inventions in our day-to-day life. From the humble matchstick to the aeroplane any number of inventions have been put in the service of the mankind. Yet, the adage may not pass the test in each and every case. For example, do we need the atom bomb or for that matter, sword, rifle or hand-grenade?

In order to accept these weapons as useful, it will be required to cast a new definition of necessity. It will have to be linked with the human nature. It will have to be said that a weapon of mass destruction like atom bomb is necessary if only to assuage the ego of a handful of people who dream to rule the world. In other words, ninety-five percent ordinary peace loving people do not need weapons. It is the necessity for the demons in the garb of human beings.

Then, perhaps it will need to be said that the invention of ‘nail-cutter’ was necessary for clipping the nails of the animal called human and make him appear civil and decent. As has been said by Hajari Prasad Dwivedi in his famous essay ‘Why the nails grow’. But where is the tool that may cut the hidden nails of those who have sold out their souls to Satan? It appears for a moment that the society can never escape from the dilemma of good and bad and the both will run side by side. But then another thought strikes me. What was ‘SATYAGRAH’ invented by Mahatma Gandhi if not an effective weapon to fight injustice!

Well, it is not my intention to delve in the realm of high philosophy. I am not qualified for it either. What I want to discuss here is inventions like TV, computer, cell-phone etc. that have become part of our daily life, particularly in the life of the urban elite. One who does not posses these gadgets is called a backward nowadays. It will be interesting to know not only their impact on the society, but also to understand that to what extent these inventions were generated by necessity.

Mobile phones have become commonplace in the country. They have replaced the pager, which remained in vogue for a short-lived period. A few years ago when in my wisdom I advised my Mumbai representative to acquire a pager, his laconic reply was that even the peons no longer used it. The message was clear. Either provide a mobile phone or let it be as it was. I cursed myself for my ignorance and being out-of-sync with the day. After all, I had assumed the humble pager to be a valuable invention.

But today, even the mobile phone has lost much of its sheen. Like many more things, it has become yet another simple object in the life of millions of Indians. It is no longer important if you own a mobile phone or not. The notable thing is the model of the handset. The costlier with added features is always better. Even if many features have no practical use. I want to understand that to what extent it is fulfilling a need, and to what degree it has become a status symbol!

Sometime ago, a beautifully produced advertisement of a mobile phone company was shown on TV. It pictured the Indian village woman using the mobile phone. A trade union friend after seeing this advertisement commented “Now the husband will call his wife to know where she was only to get the reply that she was at the river five kms away to fetch a bucket of water.” See the irony of it and tell me what do you think of it.

I also started using a mobile phone two years ago. But even today I am not sure if I really need it. You are busy in a meeting, get a wanted or unwanted call midway and become disturbed. I am reaching the conclusion that if you have to call some one then it’s okay. But in case of an incoming call it is unnecessary, rather bothersome on nine out of ten times. It mostly comes in use only because it’s a toy in one’s hands to play with.

A number of my friends have found a new application of the mobile phone. They send jokes, greetings and verses through SMS. They are modern day citizens. I find it hard to answer to their messages. I lack the ability to remember either jokes or verses. The mobile phone companies also untiringly use SMS to advertise their new services. I consider it best to ignore them.

Big cities are served by more than one company. I am flooded with SMS from these companies exhorting to use their network no sooner I have arrived in the city. Just like the hawkers in a flea market. On the other hand there is any number of places not yet connected either with this facility or my service provider has no access to the local network. In this situation the handset stays inside my travel-pack like a useless piece of luggage. Though if necessary it can always be used as an alarm clock.

I have almost a similar experience with the computer. A few months ago, a computer was installed on my table. Now my room looks more glamorous. Perhaps my visitors are duly impressed by it. I now ask for e-mail ID from my acquaintances instead of postal address and pity the friends who are still without a computer and give them unsolicited advise to get one at the earliest.

Yet, even after several months I have not been able to decide if this gadget was necessary in my life. It is okay that it has enabled me to enlarge my contacts through out the world by means of e-mail, but it is debatable if it was all that necessary. I get a lot of unwanted mail on my computer and may be; recipients of my mails also find my e-mails unnecessary and unwanted! E-mail might be useful in many cases, but I can see some of its drawbacks. Like you can communicate only with e-citizens proficient in English. There are many technical complications and financial expenses involved if one wants to use Hindi or any other Indian language. And then the computer post is not as cheap as the good old postcard.

We are already past the third year of the new century. Computer revolution has very much arrived in India. The million-dollar question is that how many people can afford to use this new invention. A desktop with basic features is priced at around Rs. 35,000.00. More money is needed to install more features. Its running cost is also considerable. Who has this money?

It can be argued that cyber-cafes have opened up at every nook and corner, even in smaller towns. But how many people can afford the user-fee. A petty twenty rupees for one-hour use is beyond the reach of millions. Then, how many of them understand English? This harsh reality is creating a chasm in the world. It is now being divided between the computer-literate and the computer-illiterate. Those who live in the world of computers are now called ‘Netizens’. The rest are citizens. Perhaps not even that. What I see is that the most of netizens are blissfully unaware of the world beyond cyber-space. Or that they just don’t care!

Written and translated by Lalit Surjan

Published in Deshbandhu, Raipur on 25th September 2003

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