Technological Dinosaur

This idea for this post originated on last evening’s call with my mother. While on Zoom, I became a little perturbed (she’d say aggressive) about her poor technology skills. It was really nothing major: one was poor technology etiquette (not muting one call while taking another), and the other was poor effort (claiming to not find something that was easy to search for with ctrl+F). Neither of these so-called “misdemeanors” deserved the disproportionate wrath I unleashed. I chided her for her poor technology skills, and told her she had to up her game if she wanted to be able to adapt to a changing world. She took it on the chin with a smile, but I felt guilty enough about what I said to write her an apology WhatsApp message. In the 5 minutes that passed between ending our Zoom call & writing her that text, my mind cast itself to the shores of the distant future. 

Thus began the montage of a fear that’s been bubbling underneath the surface for a very long time. Me, much older, in the future, struggling to get onto a spaceship that will get me home. Me, much older, not knowing how to access the mainframe cloud computer that houses all my memories. Me, forgetting. 

My maternal grandfather and my own father are two of the most flexible people I know. Although rigid with planning and organizing in advance, once things are in motion, they are the least likely to resist to occurrences along the way. Contrast this with my own style, being in a constant state of flux between organizing & being chill about life. Their flexibility gives them a unique leg-up in this fast-paced technology driven world. While they are both creatures of habit, they find a way to use new tools as they are made available for them. I have no doubt the two would have thrived in the 1970’s. Actually, there’s evidence for this. My maternal grandfather did thrive – with his cameras. My dad would have too, I’m certain. I’ve seen this play out since I’ve been a young child. Here are my top two illustrations. 

The Computer: Personal computers gathered steam in the late 70’s, early 80’s, and my grandfather, an early adopter made sure he had one at home. My mom did some work on that PC, while my chikkamma learned how to type properly on it – it’s why she’s got one of the highest words-per-minute in our family. Of course, this is also down to the lifestyle they led, but my grandfather took his knowledge of these computers and ensured he was never left behind. I saw him move to laptops with relative ease, moving these gargantuan database files he had gathered over time with him – and developing the tools that he needed to ensure that the database could sustain itself on the latest technology. He knows the most code of us all, and learns new coding languages if they fit his project requirements. With computers, he’s a real geek, and he’s wholly responsible for my computer literacy. His partner-in-crime is my father, who ensured that from a young age, I was exposed to the computer. I’ve interacted with every Windows OS that’s come out since I was born – because I played computer games and watched CD’s on our Windows 98 and 2000 computers, and that is due, in large part, to my dad’s desire to stay up-to-date. My dad used to present regularly at GITEX, so when the time was right, he used to ensure we upgraded, as a family, to the current systems in use – we moved to a family laptop, and on my mum and Uncle’s cajoling, I ended up with a PC of my own in Grade 4. His work has seen him move across the various versions of Microsoft Office & cloud computing with ease – and I used him as a guide while learning how to make the best use of OneDrive. He also has – and uses a tablet with much more skill than I can. 

The Mobile Phone: Similar story. Without a fuss, I saw both these characters move from User Interface to User Interface as their needs demanded it. My grandfather of course had to learn how to interact with the phone from scratch, but he moved to a touchscreen smartphone around the same time we all did. My dad, however, is the star here. He moved from the old brick Nokias to the Communicator range to the Blackberry to the iPhone – where he’s planted himself currently. As a working professional, this makes perfect sense: the Android OS was never intended to be an office-use driver. 

So basically, I look back at the 23 years I’ve been in this world, and I can see both my maternal grandfather and my dad transitioning seamlessly across platforms and across devices – and last evening, I’ve lost my patience with my mother for not doing so. Of course, this is putting it crudely. My mom is a star with technology in her own right, and both my dad and my Tata have asked me several questions about the latest technology – which I’ve either straight-up lied about with unabashed confidence (to then be told I was wrong), or assisted with my limited knowledge in.

But those five minutes were moments of serious reflection. 

I’m not as flexible as either of these generations before me. In fact, I struggle more than most with technology changes as they happen. Learning about how to interact with new user interfaces takes me some time. I’m good with hardware switches and hardware generally, but software is definitely a bit of an enemy. Again – this is putting it crudely, but you get my point. 

You see, I’m a little old-school. If I was given a chance, I’d go back to the non touch-screen phones. I’d add most of the smartphone features, but I would want a physical keyboard. I used to love Blackberry’s. Things just felt easier to do on them – typing felt so much more natural. Even with touchscreens, I never have been able to understand how to use the swiping keyboards – where you can type just by swiping? I much rather prefer typing out each letter that I need to – to see the words construct themselves, letter-by-letter. I loved the Windows phone – not because of anything except the fact that it looked like something familiar: the OS on my PC. Till this year, I almost exclusively used Android phones. Transitioning into the Apple ecosystem? It’s been hard work. I’m still not sure if I’m extracting the most out of my iPhone, and frequently, I speak to a friend of mine who made the same transition alongside me to sort out my doubts. 

I’m skeptical about moving to macOS. I’m skeptical also about how I’ll interact with tablet devices like the iPad. I’m not sure if they’re worth their cost, or whether I’ll be able to use them as nicely and comfortably as I use my current set up. I took a good eight months of going back between Chrome and Edge before settling on using Edge for the foreseeable future to browse the interwebs.

I am slow, relative to the industry.

A lot of this is fear. Of what, I’m uncertain. But, given my outburst with my mother, I think I’m scared of becoming a technological dinosaur. The world moves very quickly, and to be able to exist in the world of the future, it feels like I will have to, at the very least, accept some of the changes and innovations that come with it. 

I don’t think I can keep up. It takes a lot of capital to keep up – and just existing takes enough capital from us all. I don’t think I want to keep up either. My goal is a de minimis, so to speak. I just don’t want to be a relic of a bygone era when there’s something more efficient that is accessible to me for my use. I don’t mind being somebody who prefers old technology. Retro tech is very cool. I like it. But, I can see myself becoming someone who struggles with new technology and adaptation. 

That scares me.

My dad’s been telling me I should move to a Mac soon. He was also one of the first people to ask me to use secure cloud services to save files, and to scan everything important just to ensure I never lose an accessible version of it due to natural circumstances. I usually just dismiss him. Most of the time it’s because of the investment these transitions take, both financially and in terms of time – but, perhaps, I should give him more of a ear. Maybe he spotted my rigidity at a young age, and this was his way of nudging me toward a path of more flexibility. 

It’s now time I listen. Hopefully I’ll become more open-minded, empathetic, and comfortable, both with elder people like my mother struggling with current technology (she’s going to grill me for calling her elder), and me using new, modern technology. 

Connectivity

After three weeks of being away from University, I gave in today and used my phone-a-friend option, to try connecting with a friend whose company I looked forward to everyday in class. We’ve been good friends for a while, which is not to say that he is my closest friend, yet a friend with whom I have been able to share every portion of the last five years. More often than not, we used to sit near each other in class, allowing us to talk about books and the law – which has, for the most part, been my preoccupation.

On that call today, I thought a lot about connectivity. While I’ve been privileged enough to be able to speak to my friends regularly on WhatsApp, chatting with them pretty much every day, I was thinking about how, for each of us, our preferences towards the form and manner of connectivity inspires the way our interactions take place and our relationships are built. It does take considerable effort for somebody who has an aversion toward phone calls, for example, to pick up the phone and speak to someone else. As it does for people who are bad at texting to reply to messages. However, in an era where so much technology is available, attitudes towards this technology defines, in a large way the nature of relationships that are built up.

I thought back for a while to my time at school – primary school, that is. It was difficult to become friends with new people, largely because while friendships were created out of common spaces and common circumstances (take the classes I attended, or, for example, summer camps I was able to participate in), they didn’t really sustain beyond that time period – because I hadn’t set up my e-mail ID yet, and we didn’t call each other up on the landline. The only person I do remember calling up, and that too, pretty religiously, is my childhood best friend. I believe I spoke to him after school on the phone a reasonable amount, especially when our classes changed and we ended up in different sections. It was, and remains, a fond memory – and the only reason I still remember his landline number (which has not changed).

That was on my mind today: the transitions that connections have gone through. Nokia’s old tagline was Connecting People. One day that was true of hardware. That era lies only in my memory palace now.

Audiobooks

Yesterday, I learned that Audible allows you to sign-up for the service and download a free book. Now, of course, there are a ton of audiobooks available to listen to for free on YouTube, and I could have downloaded mp3 files somewhere. I’m certain of it. However, in times of isolation, you find yourself making decisions you wouldn’t ordinarily make. That was how I downloaded the application, signed-in with my amazon credentials and hunted around for a book to listen to.

I generally wear earphones while running because I like to be doing something alongside my run. This is particularly true when I’m not running on a nice trail, or doing an out-and-back run. During these runs, I’m often circling the same space repeatedly. At the moment, my field is my terrace, and it’s that small space I’m running around in. I tried playing a couple of mind games, even writing about one of them recently, but I gave in to how mind-numbing it became and sought to fill my ears with music and podcasts. This new acquisition upended that.

I found this lovely book, The Forty Rules of Love, which is about Rumi and Shams-i-Tabrez, and has honestly been narrated by the most wonderful voice artist I’ve heard (especially since he’s the first) – he’s doing a phenomenal job of bringing both the characters and the scenes to life.

I wonder if I can read more books this way. If so, it might be worthwhile looking into how I can implement this in my day-to-day.

Gaming

I have a chequered history with videogames.

When I was younger, all my friends had PS2’s that they gamed on. Except my best friend and I. This sort of put us at this weird relationship with our friends. We had (and I still have) Gameboys, and we played on those whenever we had sleepovers, aside from computer games that we had access to. Aside from that though, our conversations and entertainment activities involved the outside world for the most part, with day long trips to places like Children’s City.

At sleepovers with my other friends though, and on evenings when people weren’t in a mood to go out, I’d spend the evening at their apartment playing in, or watching them play videogames on their PS2’s. It always left me very dissatisfied, because I was always terrible at these videogames whenever my turn came – and I was made fun of because I was so awful, but I never really had the chance to practice, so to speak – given that I didn’t have a console to game on. For a while, that left me disappointed.

When we went to purchase a new television – and I can remember this very, very clearly, my parents were looking at all these television models, but I was on the side looking at this brand new Playstation Portable that had just been released by Sony. It was all over the news, and it was this fantastic hand-held console that allowed you to play these incredible games and all of this multimedia the way you would on the PS2, but in your hands. I was in awe.

I was particularly in awe because the game I saw was Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and I loved the game demo I was shown.

My dad surprised me by ordering me a Playstation Portable, with 2 free games. I saw the box on the desk in my room without an explanation, and honestly, to this day, it remains one of the happiest memories for me. My parents were very strict with it, because they didn’t want me to become addicted, so I only ever played the Playstation Portable when I was on holiday. Else, during the term, it was kept away from me, so I never got to play much. I made sure my holidays were filled with the PSP though, and I enjoyed it so much. My parents encouraged that limited playing, and at the beginning of holidays, when I had done particularly well on exams, I was allowed to buy games. I bought myself Ratatouille once, and man, what an investment that was.

However, soon, the PSP stopped being the “in-thing”. I couldn’t really play online, and I wanted to – and the console I wanted was the PS3. The PS3 released in 2006, and while we were relocating to India, I remember my mother spending some time looking at the feasibility of buying me another console and deciding against it. The PS3 in general came up in conversation on several occasions: I asked for one because I really wanted to be able to play with my friends online, but it was quite over-budget, and my parents wanted to encourage me to be outside and play in the outdoors, especially given that we had just moved to this fantastic residential space with all these amenities. Everytime I brought it up, I got shot down – and I used to be quite upset each time, I remember. Till my parents relented in Grade 9, around the start of 2012.

By that time, the PS3 Slim was out, and it had all these functionalities beyond just gaming. My parents agreed that I could have one if I sold my PSP, and at the time, I was okay with that condition. I sold my PSP to CeX in Bangalore, and got a great deal for it, and off-set that money toward the PS3, and some games, with my parents funding the rest.

It was a wild few months. However, at the time we bought it, I realized quickly that my interest in playing the PS3 was limited, and I didn’t really make the time to play because the academic pressure from school was going up and I was sort of succumbing to that, by putting pressure on myself. I did play the PS3 for a summer though, the summer before Grade 10 properly got underway. I played a lot of F1 2011, and FIFA 12. During that break – and in the subsequent winter break though, I realized how little I played it, and decided to sell it. It was barely in my possession for a year and a few months, maybe? I sold it pretty quickly, and got a good deal – one that funded one of my MUN trips to Hyderabad, a deal I was pleased with.

Since then, I rarely have played videogames. Although I enjoy them tremendously, I’m not very good at them, and I don’t prioritize them. However, since November, my interest in them has returned, and how.

This isolation period in particular has got me really interested in them once again, and one of the things I am most grateful for is that each evening, I connect up to my friend abroad and play FIFA with him for a few hours before I go to bed. We chat while gaming competitively against each other, and every day, it’s one of the things I’ve drilled into my routine to ensure I’m getting some amount of socializing.

Gaming is an interest I would like to continue. Not just with FIFA, but with some storyline-based games as well. I’ve learned how because you block laptop notifications generally while gaming, and because they’re designed to be immersive experiences, you care for very little when the game is going on. That’s a fabulous thing, because it takes some of the pressures from the outside world far away from your brain. All you’re thinking about is the game itself. I’d like to retain that. Even if it’s just a little each day.

 

Ubermensch

Zarathustra defined this person as someone who was willing to risk it all to save humanity. Today, however, I had a pleasant encounter with someone who was literally an Ubermensch: someone working for Uber. I had gone to Ahmedabad to learn things, do errands – and the return trip was halted thanks to a few canceled rides. On getting a cab, therefore, I just felt gratitude and an immediate rush to sit in the vehicle and get going. I wasn’t in a particular hurry or anything. There were no deadlines awaiting me on campus. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The evening was marked aside for hobbies and things I had procrastinated – things I would complete in my own sweet time. I was ready to sit in the car, listen to some music, fall asleep – wake up on campus and get going again.

That was not to be. Instead, I was greeted by the biggest smile, called “Tejasbhai” right off the bat. Thus began my 45 minutes with Iqbal. He initiated conversation: asking me where I was from and what I knew of my home city – and proceeding to talk to me about Uber itself. I’ve held a longstanding fascination and admiration for the company, and when driver-partners are willing to engage in conversation, I try to understand their motivations and the company culture as much as possible. From my experience thus far, most driver-partners are disillusioned by the model at present, but stick with it because they’ve committed to it. A large portion of their discontent stems from the fact that when Uber rolled out in India, the company paid out several incentives – and made promises of continuous earning streams that would match this throughout the time that a driver-partner was registered with the application. However, as time passed by, and Uber gained enough of a driver-base to no longer have to spend as much as they were on driver-partner retention/attraction, everything faded away. Drivers’ earnings dropped. A lot of things have changed over the years internally as well, and drivers’ have complained about the way their requests and complaints get handled.

Today, however, Iqbal acknowledged that this may be the case for several individuals, but had never been the case for him personally. He told me his story: that there were bad customers, bad ratings, and weird interactions with the company, but that these were in the minority, and were a rarity. More than 90% of his interactions with Uber were fine – on all sides. When I pressed him about his motivations, he told me two things: first, the freedom & independence that Uber gave him, and second, the kind of job he did earlier, and how this was way better. I agreed on both fronts, but I was curious about earnings, so I asked him about them directly – since we had built a rapport. Iqbal explained something that has stuck with me throughout the day.

He explained, quite simply, that Uber was the kind of application where you got as much out of it as you put into it. You spend more hours driving, accept trips regularly, don’t cancel on them – and treat customers well – and you’ll get paid high amounts, be treated well by the company. The minute you start mucking around and acting picky about taking short trips, or rejected destinations – the company knows something’s most definitely up. That affects how they look at your profile, and by extension – you.

To me, the reason this stuck with me is because it’s translatable to so much of life. We all get what we put into life. Every day. Like Iqbal said: sometimes it’ll suck. But 90% of it turns out alright eventually. It motivated me enough for the evening & I didn’t procrastinate any of the work I had any further.

In fact, I’m still doing some right now.

I tipped Iqbal – and I hope that Uber will ensure the tip reaches him. I learned a lot from this Ubermensch.