By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Psychology Of Turbulence

Reviewing the triumphant march of modern science and technology during the past 100 years or so (Tempo Of Transformation, Sept. 29), I had roughly divided the 20th century into three uneven segments -- marking the milestones at 1940 and 1990, and extending the last decade upto 2010 -- and pointed out that the pace of technosocial change in the  world had dramatically accelerated in those successive phases, turning quite turbulent in the last one.     

     Obviously the extent and tempo of change wouldn't have been identical all over the world at any given point of time, or during any given time-span.  But the overall impression conveyed above -- which is based on my cumulative perception of the global scenario as an intelligent and educated citizen of India --  would be more or less true of all economically advanced regions of the world as well as many steadily developing ones.

 Perspectives and perceptions

     I was a schoolboy when my country was transformed from a British colony into an independent, strongly democratic Republic in 1947.  And although India was (and to some extent, still is) a 'developing' nation, it had actually made very impressive technological progress by the beginning of the Second World War -- and, thanks to the political and commercial concerns of the British regime, had excellent roads and railways, dams and bridges, ports and factories, mills and machines, and so on.    

     Thus, by the middle of the 20th century India had harvested many  technosocial benefits of the industrial revolution without actually going through the initial and intermediate processes of ploughing the fields and sowing the seeds.  It had then steadily made further scientific and economic progress during the next half-century.  And in the frenzied field of the ongoing information revolution today, India seems to be running a neck-to-neck race with the most advanced countries of  the world.      

     One of the finest assets inherited by independent India from the late British Empire was the well-entrenched English language, which has made successive generations of educated Indians very familiar not only with the wonderful treasures of English literature,  but also with the scientific and social scenarios prevailing in Great Britain and other developed nations of the world throughout the 20th century.      

     Given all these relevant facts,  it isn't really surprising that there would be a certain similarity between my environmental perspective and the average senior English citizen's!   Naturally, it may clash with the impressions of someone with a very different background altogether.  To that extent my own opinions may need to be modified with reference to some specific regions of the world;  but that's unlikely to dilute their intrinsic logic.
Passive role

      I had been a student and civil servant throughout the half-century (1940 to 1990) which marked the second technosocial phase of the 20th century,  and became a senior citizen in the third phase (1990 to 2000+).  As a little boy I was  fascinated by the romantic sights and sounds of railway stations and steam-spewing locomotives, and later on by the sheer thrill of ever-faster rail travel after steam power was replaced by diesel and electricity.   
     By the time I had any opportunities for flying, jet planes had already  arrived in India;  and my very first flight was in a Caravelle, from Bombay to Madras.  Later on I had to fly very frequently in much larger and far more sophisticated  aircraft, till a stage was reached when flying was no longer an adventure but had become a routine affair.
     But no matter how frequently and extensively I travelled by rail or by air, I never actually felt disturbed or overwhelmed by the concerned technological marvels, just taking them for granted --  because for enjoying the immense benefits they brought to me, I didn't have to take any technical initiative or responsibility of my own.         
     I've mentioned trains and passenger aircraft just as a couple of examples, to illustrate the passive role played by the ordinary users of most products of 20th-century technology.  Many other wonderful inventions too -- such as radio, television, recording or motion picture machines, etc. -- which had enormous mass appeal, made no technical demands whatsoever on the beneficiaries, peacefully insulating them from all related tensions.       

Psychological pressures
     By contrast, the endlessly voluminous Internet -- reinforced and extended by the ever-more-sophisticated innovations in computer and cell-phone technologies, and constantly stretching the horizons --  seems to call for a very high degree of technical competence and involvement even from the ordinary beneficiaries, whose numbers have started swelling into billions and are still soaring.      

     But that's only one of several significant factors which, taken together, apply tremendous psychological pressures on individual users as well as the ever-expanding community of consumers,  making the social impact of 'information technology' resemble a furious hurricane blowing all around the world.    The vital forces causing such universal turbulence include the phenomenal growth of professional opportunities and 'social networks',  the unlimited sources and storgage of information, the progressive invasion and loss of privacy,  the incredibly rapid obsolescence of basic tools and systems, the menace of malpractices -- and, above all, the dramatic changes in lifestyles and cultural affairs. 


(to be continued) 

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