Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Why this hurry?

In accordance with the last few posts of mine that deal with old age and some questions on life really is, I felt that this would be the most relevant time to think and write on this topic. Inspiration for this post was kindled by a comment I received on my previous post that I had reposted in the internal blog of my company. The comment, by none other than the co-founder of Zoho, read "Every decade in your life will go faster than the one before". On reading it, I suddenly started feeling disappointed, giving a serious thought to how true his words would be.

I remember my childhood days darn well, much more than I would like to admit. The people, the thoughts that used to run in my mind, my crushes and many more - I have very fresh memories of them, as if all that happened just a few days ago. Perhaps the very first incident that got me seriously thinking on this topic was my friend Aishwarya's wedding. In the recent past (about ten years or so), I hadn't attended a single wedding before hers. Although I have heard stories of my college-mates getting married, attending a close friend's marriage suddenly made me feel depressed - felt as if all our youth years were over already. What makes it worse is my habit of listening to songs, keenly observing and remembering the lyrics right from my childhood. When I was barely ten years old, I listened to this song called 'Chaand Sitare' from the movie Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, which had a verse that goes like this: "Pehena ke taaj jawani ka, haske laut gaya bachpan", which roughly translates to "By placing the garland of youth on her neck, childhood smiled and left". As a ten year old kid, I had already started feeling depressed as if my childhood was over.

There's this uncanny link between growing up and seeing things change at a faster rate around you than you can cope up, a phenomenon that we call the Generation Gap, to brand our previous generation as being less tech savvy and apparently less intelligent. We have written essays in junior and high school on this topic without truly understanding what it meant. It is worth noticing that the world has changed at a faster rate in the last decade, than the rate at which it changed in the previous decade. Take an example - the first mobile content, a ringtone, was sold only as recent as 1998, but technology changed so fast that 3G was introduced in Japan in 2001. The first call via a mobile phone was made in 1991 and by 2007, there were 3 billion mobile subscribers, which rose to 4 billion in 2009. Take another similar instance - to reach a market audience of 50 million people, it took the Telephone 75 years, 38 years for Radio, 13 years for TV, 4 years for internet, 2 years for Facebook and only 35 days for Angry Birds. We truly live in exponential times.

It is estimated that a week's worth of an English daily contains more information than a person was likely to come across his entire lifetime in the 18th century. And the amount of information that will be generated this year would be more information than the past five thousand years put together. I hope all these examples would pretty much give anyone an idea of how fast things are changing. The speed at which the world changed during our parents' times wasn't probably half the speed at which it is changing now. Every new technology and change is quickly being adapted to. It is hard to believe that my whole family and relatives are on WhatsApp - the same people who once argued that mobile phones must not be used.

I watched the movie Shawshank Redemption around the year 2008, and there's been a dialogue that I have been remembering ever since. Brooks Hatlen is a character in the movie who is an elderly person and had been in prison for nearly fifty years. He is released on parole and looks to be over eighty years old by then. Once he is out, he writes back to his friends in prison "Dear fellas, I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry. Sometimes it takes me a while to remember where I am. Maybe I should get me a gun and rob the Foodway so they'd send me home. I could shoot the manager while I was at it, sort of like a bonus. I guess I'm too old for that sort of nonsense any more." It makes me think that at some point of time, we might hit a saturation level after which we may not be able to cope up with the ever changing world. Time would have gotten ahead of us.

Thus, it all comes down to a single question - why is this world in such a hurry? Whom are we trying to prove a point to? Do we really need to accelerate change so fast that it would consume our entire life in trying to get accustomed to the changing life rather than just live it? At the current rate of progress, I felt that only the elite few who are privileged and can afford new technology would be able to embrace the change and the others who cannot would be left behind. But the way things are turning out, and technology becoming cheaper every passing day, I see people from even the lowest strata of the society holding a smartphone in their hands. While it delights me that we aren't really leaving anyone behind, and it is only a matter of choice, but not affordability to embrace this change, it still doesn't answer my question - why change so fast?

Startups are at the forefront of the industries that are making technologies to revolutionize the way we live. These are the kind of companies who are driving the change that I have talked about all along. I have spoken to a lot of people from the tech startup industry and have understood that the very reason they are developing their product(s) is to solve people's problems. But then, I have a feeling that the problems that they identified aren't much of a problem at all. Going out and buying groceries from the corner shop is being identified as a problem and they are solving it by delivering it to your house. What's worse, knowing that you are running out of groceries has itself been identified as a problem and a smart fridge is arriving, that will order your groceries for you without your knowledge so that you never run out of groceries! The only way I see this ending, other than an AI takeover or a robot apocalypse is that humans will be outwitted and put out of all possible jobs. There will be nothing much to do in this world for anyone except those few people who would make or control those bots. History has seen the gradual rise of human intellect, and we are currently witnessing the exponential rise of collective human knowledge to unprecedented levels. I can predict a break point at which it will begin to fall, but it would be safe to assume that it isn't until a few tens of decades when that would happen. It would also be safe to assume that it isn't going to happen in the near future, at least till the reminder of our lives.


Swetha Suryanarayanan said...

Good one. True that, life is moving too fast that we don't know where we are heading towards. I guess we are on the "i-dont-want-to-be-an-adults-yet" stage . :-)

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