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Then And Now
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As we look forward to 2015 and, i’m sure, many deve-lopments in technology, I can’t help looking back to the end of 2014, on a sad personal event. I lost my marvelous father, a former test pilot in the Indian Air Force and an exceptional person, to a sudden illness that left my family and me reeling at the hole in our lives. As I eventually got myself back to work, I realised that in a way, it was my father who was responsible for my writing my long-standing column in this magazine. This is because it was he who put the love of technology into us — me and my siblings. While he lay in his hospital bed, 86 years old, losing blood, getting weaker and in obvious discomfort, he still called for his gadgets to be brought to him. Fancy complicated watch, iPad, phone, special headphones, FM receiver, he wanted them all with him in the ICU. Of course, he was allowed no such thing.
Today we talk of “digital natives” and a generation that has been born into technology, but for my family, digital life began long ago, thanks to a father who had an abiding fascination with new ways of doing things. It started long before I was anywhere on the scene. When he was in Allahabad University, he rigged up his hostel room door to switch on the lights on being opened. This caused such a stir that his friends and relatives would regularly bring “tourists” to see this bit of magic for themselves. Today, we wouldn’t think twice about lights that turn on automatically. In fact, today lights are supposed to do what we want even if we’re not there and when we are, respond to our moods.
Early adopters is a recent term, used over the past ten years or so. But we were early adopters ever since I can remember. One day I got home from school to find strange boxes adorning the walls of all our rooms. These were intercoms, now almost obsolete. But how amazing they seemed when they were a new concept. My father gave all of us a Morse code and that’s how he alerted us to the fact that he had a message for us. Amusingly, our houses being small, we could hear each other without the aid of technology anyway. But it was fun while it lasted. Today, a mere vibration on a wrist can relay a message.
There was also much excitement in our house when a device that seemed to conjure up a whole orchestra in front of you, arrived. A little box with buttons and some earphones — the Walkman. I still remember the absolute wonder on our faces as the music came alive on this revolationary gadget, sounding so real and so different from our scratchy LPs. One third of our living room used to be taken up by audio equipment, including ham radio tuners, amplifiers, and enormous speakers. It was unbelievable that head-filling sound could come out of the little Walkman and more so, that you could carry it around with you.
Needless to say, our household had one of the first few personal computers, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It had no hard disk, no screen, no nothing. It was like half a laptop. You had to connect it to the TV to give it a screen and you had to key in code from the Spectrum magazine to use a program. We didn’t realise it then, but this new toy was the start of our careers, all of us children. Some years later, my father took away my beloved typewriter despite my loud protests and plonked a much bigger box on a table in my room. My first PC with just about nothing on it but a C prompt that scared me silly since I didn’t know what to do with it. But barely a year later, I used it to create and launch a personal computing magazine.
And so it was that we grew up with VHF radios and cassette recorders, digital pens and FM equipment, using email before the Web arrived and printing beautiful documents before households even knew you could have a printer at home. It was immensely enjoyable and the foundation for what each of us in the family does today. And it’s only when my father was gone that I realised fully where I got my absolute wonder at technology from.
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 26-01-2015)