BENGALURU: In the decades preceding the 1980s, it was common to spot people standing by the roadside with a hand to the ear, and there were no second thoughts of walking up and asking, “What’s the score?” That posture is a common sight today, too, only that the hand to the ear grips a mobile phone instead of a pocket transistor relaying sports commentary, a song or the news of the world.
Those were times when one hadn’t heard of the mobile phone, although some like Sir Arthur C Clarke, science-fiction writer and futurist who fictionally popularised space travel, had forecast the coming of a “small communication unit” (again through fiction) that could connect people in different corners of the world in a wireless mode.
His foresight, however fictional then, scored a bull’s-eye with the progress in communication technology culminating in a mobile phone in early 1970s in New York, but which came to India only in the 1990s – a wireless derivative of the telephone, which enjoys a 146-year-old history.
Clarke wrote about it when landline telephones still ruled the roost, with most Indian families nursing a degree of pride in owning an instrument, a measure of one’s status then.
The progress resulted in shrinking the world into a pocket. Must admit, it has come handy at a time when a massive Covid-19 pandemic is forcing people to not just work from home, but to conduct life itself from home. One can sit in a spot and order life about, only to get up to receive deliveries at the doorstep. The magic, of course, is worked out by the numerous apps filling the phone spaces - but still it’s ultimately the mobile phone and the satellite-based technologies like global positioning system that are aiding it.
But the evolution of technology has changed us. In the old days, when the landline announced an incoming call with its shrill ring, one would pick it up, ask who is speaking and who needs to be spoken to, and the entire household (sometimes even the neighbours) knew who called and for whom. Not so with the mobile phone, with which our communications – whether spoken or through messages – have become extremely private, almost to the point of secrecy.
Its impact may well be observed in behavioural changes, mainly among the urban kids. They have access to these tools as schools too have moved from physical classrooms to their homes. The privacy and secrecy factors have engulfed the little ones too. Many parents complain about their inability to keep a check on what other material their kids access on the pretext of accessing online lessons. In many cases, children know far more than their parents about using and accessing details on mobile phones – a tricky situation that leaves the latter stumped.
The psycho-social impact of it on children can only be guessed as kids get access to unreal situations on the screens than to real ones in life around them, unimaginably compromising life and social skills.
Age-wise impacts apart, the mobile phone has made us so private, that often others at home are oblivious to any among the family members being on a call. I hear me being called by my family members (not on the phone, but through a throaty sound by straining the voice box) for lunch, dinner or an errand to run, without realising that I might be in the middle of a professional call. How can I blame them?
One thing I am sure of: If Charles Darwin was alive he would have predicted humans to evolve with heads bent forward from their necks!