National Technology Day: Here's how far we've come

Ever heard of an 8-track? Or the C-60/C-90? Or perhaps the Walkman, which was a source of envy for the many who didn’t have one?

Back in the day, when it came to communications, there was the aerogramme and the inland letter – not email or Facebook. People relied on a telegram, not Instagram, for quick messaging. Pinterest was perhaps something of interest that you pinned to the corkboard in your office. If you said “WhatsApp”, people might have given you a funny look and laughed at your mispronunciation. 

Not to forget the good old rotary dial telephone and the tiresome practice of booking ‘trunk’ calls – or if it was really important, a ‘lightning’ call. Both were monitored for a duration, were very expensive, and could take hours to connect.

The closest people came to using computers was through calculators. Or digital watches, first launched 46 years ago at the cost of $2,100 (about $12,000 in today’s money) and were the hottest thing (besides the Walkman) that anyone cool would wear – well, along with your Murjani’s, or Wrangler’s. And let’s not forget the VHS vs Betamax wars. Analogue still ruled, all at a time when saying “Google it” wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

When it came to banking, ATMs were unheard of and Credit Cards were a fanciful idea – the only ones that existed in India were Diners Club and American Express, both limited to the rich and powerful. Cheques were the only way to draw cash, and that too after standing in serpentine queues at bank branches and having your account details written by hand in a ledger. Manual operating procedures were standard operating procedures then. Today, we have moved beyond card and cash payments.

And if you talked about the web, some would get squeamish. After all, not everyone is fond of spiders. So ‘websites’ – such as those created by HDFC Bank for modern-day banking customers – as a term didn’t even exist. Forget the convenience provided by Mobile Baking today. you’d probably have to take half the day off from your job to ensure all your bills were paid on time. 

Welcome to the good old days, when everything (including life) was simpler, though harder. But those of us who were alive at the time had loads of fun and made it through all right!

The price of ‘progress’

Cut to 2018, where the Internet of Things (IoT) is already passé, and people are talking about Artificial Intelligence, driverless cars, space tourism, and your smartphone that now carries far more computing power than the computers used for the Apollo Moon missions. 

Today, human beings of all ages – but more typically millennials and 21st-century schizoids – suffer from RSI and neck aches from hunching over those very smartphones that show less about the real world than the ‘windows to the world’ given to them from birth. But such has been the pace of technological change in the last 40 or so years, which for kids today, writing means typing on an artificial keyboard, and the pen has gone the way of the quill-and-inkpot.

National Technology Day 

Some might remember the events of 11 May 1998 at Pokhran, Rajasthan. Now, 20 years later, the Ministry of Science & Technology is celebrating the anniversary of the nuclear tests carried out on that day – one that made the world sit up and take notice of India. Of course, there was a geopolitical kerfuffle too, but the day has been identified as one that highlights the importance of science in our daily lives.

Perhaps we should also pay homage to the scientists, thinkers, engineers, and entrepreneurs who made things possible through sheer determination, mental fortitude, and the power of the pen to create a world that’s made life easier for all of us. By bringing the digital age to all facets of life – be it communications, music, the arts, entertainment, and even more prosaic aspects such as banking.

So, on 11 May, pay your respects to science by understanding that without the pen, we wouldn’t have the pen drive. And that the brain really is the most important technological tool in existence.

* The information provided in this article is generic in nature and for informational purposes only.