Life before this brave new world

Because it’s Thursday, let us take a moment to remember how there was life before:

  1. 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 –
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Research databases. JSTOR and EBSCO are my lifelines. I am speechless with emotion.
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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).
  9. 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 …
  10. 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?
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.

10 thoughts on “Life before this brave new world”

  1. As a child of the 80s now working on her dissertation, all I can say is “Alhumdulillah!” (Especially #5!)

  2. ipods to store a crazy amount of songs, so many that i never imagined this much music existed in the world. but i still find myself thinking wistfully of my sony walkman every now and then, and how i used to be the envy of my cousins because i was the only one to own such a precious possession. now ofcourse i have the clunkiest, oldest ipod and they’re all zipping along with the teeniest tiniest ones.

    i’m totally with you on all of these, especially the coffee shops. doing work in libraries is so passe🙂

  3. All of the above. Plus compact memory. The first hard drive I encountered could store TEN MEGABYTES!!!! of memory. It sounded like a motorbike revving taking off and had to be ceremoniously spun up and spun down in case anyone bumped into the table when it wasn’t in use.

    My mobile currently has a 2GB (TWO GIGABYTES) card the size of my fingernail. And I just invested in a one terabyte back-up drive the size of a fat paperback.

    Wi-fi. Life before wi-fi was a nightmare.

  4. Hmmm….Facebook?😀

    Nice list…all these things that weren’t available to us a few years back (here in Pakistan) and now we can’t think of living without them🙂

    P.S. I commented on an old post “An Eid present from Uncle Soldier”…that soldier was a Pakistani soldier and that little girl was a Kashmiri girl after the 8th Oct earthquake🙂

  5. Bani baitee how do you come up with such nicities of everyday mudane things? I must look at your gray as well as the white matter. hahaha I look forward to opening your blog. I dont know what you planned with that Ghazala Khan of Pak. Spectater?
    Beautiful and the comments filling up other things (and still counting I suppose). Of course for an oldie like me these things are all like “mann-o-salwa”.
    Coffee shops were present in Lahore colleges too, may be different but they were for us a place to ‘hang out’. You could get half set (some nonPakistani youngsters may have difficulty with that) in 4 annas then. Who will pay, was decided by placing the knife in the center of the table and giving it a turn so when it moves round and round until it comes to stop, the end of the cutting edge will point to the miserable fellow who will pay. That was fun. I recently talked with my friend visiting from Pakistan and we were reminscing these little pleasures and were talking about where we stand technologically today from those days. I wonder what Raihana and her cousins will say 20 years from now?

  6. Nice going, people. Definitely, memory, facebook, ipods, (I do remember the era of the walkman and I DID NOT have one for the longest time) – thank you, mamujan, I am honoured by your praise and enjoyed your anecdotes (I remember half sets too, but the knife turning practice for me was more about summoning jinns!)

  7. Hooray for all the stuff you mentioned, I got to reconnect with old friends, can chat/email, text my family any time I want to (well, have to count those hrs incase they are fast asleep). My mother sees my children via web-camera, alhamdulilah, man has really accomplished some stuff. On the negative side, would those pple sending me the same forwards stop plz, it’s jsut driving me crazy, if they can find time to forward me something they can atleast say *HI*. 😛

  8. digital cameras!!! you take a picture and you don’t have to wait until you drop it off and pick it up to see the images! you can see it RIGHT THEN!!!
    i still remember very clearly the apprehension while taking a roll of pictures – did i do that right? what if it was over/under/badly exposed? and then the EXCITEMENT of picking up a developed roll at snapshops or walmart (or klick, in edinburgh!) and opening the envelope (which i would often do while driving back from said developer).
    there’s so much to learn about digital photography, but i still have that feeling that film photography forces you to pay more attention to what you’re doing – after all, you’re paying for the roll and the development!!! you can’t just delete them and start over…

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