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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Musings #1: Technology: freedom or crutch?

This is my first post with my shiny, new laptop. I’m very excited. Now I’ve got full access to the network at work, direct access to the printer and my favourite, access to the Internet on a consistent basis. This is something of a minor miracle actually as I’ve been having technology issues. My cell phone provider had some administrative glitch in setting up my account (address verification) and cancelled my ability to make outgoing calls for nearly a week. My credit cards had too low a flag on them for India (I understand why, it being apparently a high fraud region), so I couldn’t buy my laptop in one go. And my bank card stripe crapped out rendering me without access to cash. But, all things taken in stride and several unmentionable strings of phrases later, I’ve pulled out my backup bank card (a big thank you to whoever suggested the tip to bring a spare), fixed my credit card local limit (my issue was my ability to buy an emergency plane ticket on short notice if something ever came up) and after a couple more days wait, I got my new laptop. So I’m back plugged into the drug of modern society, cell phone in pocket, ipod in my ears and carting my laptop to & from work – just like half the folks I see in traffic every morning. Although it is obviously not pervasive everywhere or applied exactly in the way we see in the West, you cannot say the developing world has not embraced technology in a big way.

It is an interesting juxtaposition and one I have at times struggled with here. I’ve left the West to do development work and as such, expect I should also leave the technology trappings and connectedness behind, but find myself still fully integrated with it and expected to be. Partly it is a romantic vision of what development should be like or perhaps the vision simply hasn’t caught up with the realities of the modern world. Once upon a time, those doing development really were far out of touch with those back home and where communication took weeks or even months. But today that notion is antiquated. In today’s world, every auto-rickshaw driver has a cell phone, those kids playing cricket barefoot will have seen James Bond and heard the latest pop icon and internet cafes and wireless access is available in shops by the dozen.

The other part is that I am not living in a village in the middle of nowhere. I am living in a city, working with other professionals and living with people who are similarly of the middle class. So fitting in means similar things to home: I’d be some weird hippy if I didn’t have a phone; I need a good computer to do my work; and half the people I see on my commute have earphones in their ears.

Still, it does give me pause to question sometime. Here I am, supposedly worlds away, but I can talk to anyone in the world, carry my music and enjoy the comforts of civilisation. Or I can lock my stuff up and go wandering. Sometimes I fear that we are getting to afraid of being alone, others I love the shrinking of the world and the cultural exchange it allows. I’m sure there will be more to write as I think about it. This, more than most of my posts, is very much a raw thought, a ramble and a work in progress.

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