10 July, 2007

The 'i' Age

When the movie ‘The Godfather’ was released in the early 1970s, every movie going adult seemed to be, impatiently, waiting to watch it; and when it finally came to one of the local theaters in my area – there were very long queues for days, and the theater was packed for weeks. I did not watch it that first time, but I did watch it about two years later. Maybe because I was too young then, I did not like it that first time, and it took me years to realize that ‘The Godfather’, part one, is one of the greatest American films ever made.

In the late 1990s, here in Hadhramout, the ‘Pokémon’ cartoon TV series became such an enormous hit with children and mothers that, the local religious leaders had to intervene. As it was: every evening – children, and most mothers, were glued on TVs; even during the time for prayers. Worse, the ‘Pokémon’ toys, stickers and other related merchandise, were selling so much and so fast that the local stores selling them could not keep up with the demand. In all this, the men, including me – were detached. In fact, I could not understand what all the frenzy was all about. As the adulation for the Pokémon cartoons, toys etc. , especially Pikachu, became too intense and so much time and money was being spent on that, religious leaders started preaching regularly, intensely too, about the danger of turning the Pokémons in to figures of worship. And within days, the Pokémon fever – abruptly - ended; store owners selling Pokémon stuff, incurred huge losses. And now? Children here, as most around the world – are crazy about PlayStation; but not as much as they were, with Pokémon.

I still remember at how: PlayStation 3 was longingly awaited for, in major urban areas around the world; and how the ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies are impatiently waited for. Strangely, Harry Potter has no fans here at all. Of late, for the last few years, there have been the many ‘i’s. There is the iPod, CNNs iReport, the iGoogle and now? The long, feverishly awaited: iPhone. All aptly named. Aptly named, in that – we now live in a world, in an age, where the ‘i’ , the self, is supreme, overrules and overrides; more than at any other time in the past. Instead of: people, family, friends and live pets - robots, toys and gadgets which can cost thousands, are what interests most; including, children. Children are being brought up and indoctrinated in to this i’ culture. A culture that distances emotions and feelings, except for the self. A frozen, anaesthetised self.

Many, are now most happy to spend hours each day on the Internet; another ‘I’: the biggest one. Most people in urban areas now communicate, not directly with each other, but through electronic means. Most too, spend much of their time with one electronic device or another. Parents and their children are no longer as close as they were before; couples too, are not as close as couples of old used to be. In short – people, especially in urban areas, are most happy and choose to be - alone. Alone, with an electronic device or gadget. No wonder, the number of divorces and children on drugs are fast increasing; and most marriages, particularly in urban areas, are simply there by name, and not real.

In all this, if one really thinks hard and deeply – are we happier or more at peace now than people of old? Are all the hypes about a movie, a book, a gadget - honest and true? Or do we just get entrapped, and then move along with the masses? For any movie buff who loves American films, 'The Godfather' is truly a great movie; but is the iPhone truly as useful and as worth as it is said, it is or is it 'just yuppie bling'? Whatever benefits such technologies bring and however helpful they are, I wholly agree with Bruce Weinstein's view: Our society has devolved into a mass of turned-on, tuned-out, and plugged-in technophiles. Whatever distinction used to exist between public and private life is all but gone. Waiting on line at the grocery store or post office used to mean striking up a conversation with the person in front of you. Now it involves blurting the intimate details of one's love life into a cell phone for all to hear, or scrolling through a playlist for just the right song, or checking our e-mail. By 'our society' Bruce meant, Americans or the West; but as it is, now, the World is linked and intertwined so much more closely than ever before that it is all: one World and one society. All webbed up by the Internet, other electronic devices and the many 'i's