Mother had a list of golden rules she had brought from her father’s house. It was more or less a list of preventive measures that boiled down to one broad stricture: “Don’t mess with anything, especially what is not yours.”
Given that we owned so little in those days, this meant that there was really very little we could meddle with. We siblings certainly couldn’t help ourselves to each other’s toys and of course, there were absolutely no gadgets around for us to interfere with, so we just kept our hands to ourselves and did not try to figure out how anything worked. That the radio and the hand-operated meat-mincing machine and the sewing machine worked and brought forth treats of different kinds was enough for us. There were no questions asked, no attempts to look into the mechanics of anything.
Did that make us singularly lacking in curiosity? I didn’t thought so then, but later, when I was in charge of my own home, I felt that there could have been a gap in our practical education, because I was prone to staring uncomprehendingly at all things mechanical or electronic and following a strict policy of: “Do not touch / do not tinker / do not try to inspect the mechanism.”
Thus, when a fuse blew or the music system played up or the television did not come on and I had to sort it out on my own, it took me much longer than it should have. When we travelled, I did not adjust my watch to the time zone we were in. Instead, doggedly, with a little addition or subtraction as the place warranted, I could adhere to the punctual schedule of the rest of the group without the benefit of those clicks and swipes of the all-purpose smart phone others used to get to that point. The same went for currency exchange. Why resort to a calculator when a little mental arithmetic could keep my mind sharp and alert — or let’s face it, help to just keep my mind!
As for the smart phones and other devices that everyone around us cannot do without, the less said the better. Slowly, reluctantly, long after others were using these as extensions of their hands, a cell phone came into my possession — and of course, it was left on a table somewhere in the house, while I reclined on a sofa somewhere else in the house. When I moved out of the house, it went with me; made no mistakes about that; but it was buried somewhere in my voluminous handbag and the musical ringtone usually had me shaking my head to the beat for some time before I realised that someone was trying to get in touch with me!
I was also all thumbs when it came to messaging and watched awestruck while the rest of the world, especially the young, thumbed away at the speed of light — and I wondered wryly whether we should retire the “all thumbs” idiom in its traditional sense!
As for WhatsApp messages, it is certainly a dream come true when friends and family are abroad, but for those of us in this country, surely we can punch a number and have an actual voice-to-voice chat instead of thumbing away endlessly without punctuation and with frequent emojis, creating messages that are confusing, confounding and consume so much time and effort to decipher!
So, do I trace all this reluctance and confusion with technology back to my childhood and the stern admonishments we received from our parents not to touch what we knew nothing about?
Perhaps I should.
Because, as the parent of an adult child, I’m in that age slot right now when I’m conveniently considered responsible for everything that my offspring does wrong or cannot do efficiently!
— Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India