Because it’s Thursday, let us take a moment to remember how there was life before:
- Credit cards. Yes, indeed. In 1989, when Uncle Mushtaq, our neighbor in Lahore in the PCSIR housing campus, had his total salary of Rs. 5000 picked from his pocket one month, that meant that that month was going to be a very difficult one.
Uncle Mushtaq’s reaction? “Onnoo kadee thhod na hovay” (I pray that he – the pickpocket – never wants for money.”) I remembered Uncle Mushtaq’s prayer when my digital camera was stolen from my baggage at the Washington, DC airport in December 2007. May that baggage handler enjoy the camera. And may I buy one soon – so I can preserve my daughter’s age 2 memories soon. Which reminds us –
- Digital cameras. Due to parties that will remain unnamed, my aforementioned digital camera did not accompany us to my dissertation defense. For some mysterious reason, Svend’s camera preserved the day in the form of darkened shadows. And that was that. If you lost your photos, they were gone. No files on your hard disk. So hooray for small, handy, gimmick-rich digital cameras.
- Camcorders. Yes, our grandparents could look forward to that one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit and pose for a camera, once every few years if they were lucky. And our children can have their motion and their voices captured for the future. Amazing. Truly.
- Computers. Let me be the first to confess that the first time I handled a computer was in 1993. I wrestled with a colleague’s desktop Mac during my MPhil at Cambridge, and spent PhD scholarship money to acquire my first no-name desktop in 1996. From then on, I bought 2 Toshiba Satellites, one SONY VAIO (sadly deceased last year), and one Dell. Try to imagine how it would be to type on a typewriter, messing up an important document with white-out (or erasers) and re-typing all over again. And now imagine typing an entire dissertation or book in that way.
- Research databases. JSTOR and EBSCO are my lifelines. I am speechless with emotion.
- Email. Good God, email! I am from a generation of people that got email in their late 20s. As a result, I lost touch with school and college friends. Now, I can never lose touch with people, even if I want to. Nightmares of the past can “reconnect” with me through a quick, thoughtless message. Except people who live outside the US and Canada: folks outside North America cannot be relied upon to check email religiously everyday. What’s up with that?
- Coffee shops. Enough said. Need I explain? Most of my work would never be done without these. Mobility is an amazing thing. You can now enjoy the company of your friends, and the ambience of a coffee shop while you work. Let’s take a moment to enjoy the fantastical glory of this modern-day reality. A change of atmosphere (unless you go to the SAME CAFE EVERY DAY), a set of fellow beings also working at their laptops, and catchy/hip music and the hum of conversation filling the silence–these things can, strangely, work wonders. Or maybe not?
- google.com. Nuff said. You couldn’t ALWAYS just kill time by digging up every piece of public information about casual acquaintances, including mailing list contributions they’d made in the fiery days of their youth. You actually had to inquire about them, and care enough to find out. Now, you can do research about anything and everything that casually passes through your mind. Even worthless thoughts can result in additional pieces of information, but significant ideas can actually result in solid knowledge about Pakistan’s mountains (yes, look it up), the habits of seahorses (hmmm … right?), and the Pakistani diva Noor Jahan (go on, you can’t resist it).
- dictionary.com for all those times you need to use the dictionary and the thesaurus but don’t have them handy. Now you can replace commonplace words with a choice of ten substitutes and brighten up your prose. But, on the flip side, you have no excuses to use “peak” for “pique” anymore. And yet this is happening more than ever …
- Support groups: So the world is becoming lonely and isolated. And yet, today, you can google (or look up the phone book, if you prefer clunky), and find people who share your particular phobia, struggle, or bad habit. Writing a dissertation? Struggling to quit smoking? Pregnant? Whether online or in the ‘real world,’ you now have access to people who have the same problems. And they can listen to you. No longer are you stuck with families and friends who “don’t understand.” Brave new world, right?
- Keyless car entry. So, little things make me happy. I acquired my first such car 2 years ago. With a baby in tow, I cannot imagine how I’d do without it (and yet the world does). Every now and again, I am impatient with the world, as I click my key-remote at my house-door.
- Cellphones. Remember waiting for your dad to pick you up from school/college, straining your eyes to see his car in the sun, at the edge of your bench, with no idea when he would suddenly show up? I do. Now I drive, so I rarely wait for tardy picker-uppers, but when you do, a quick text message can conveniently tell you their ETA. And you can send them a quick nasty message to hurry the hell up.
- Would you like to add more to this list so we can be grateful? We may live in strange times – full of Paris Hilton, reality shows, feast on one side of the world and famine on the other, and easy global exploitation by a small number of individuals, – but for a number of reasons, we can still be grateful for living in 2008. ….
But do not forget that this is a list produced by a person who lives in the first world, a person who has enough to eat, who can occupy privileged spaces and benefit from the resources the developed world has to offer. For most people in the world today, NONE of the things I have mentioned are a reality. Whether we speak of the children orphaned in the Pakistani earthquake, or Safia in Somalia who has not eaten in a week, – or even the “still separate, still unequal” state of American schools, most of these features of our brave new world are still dreams.