Sunday 10 May 2020

Ananya Guha, Prose 500, 2020, Longlist

We have often talked about the world as a global community, And we cite the internet as a working force behind this. So everything is virtual from commerce to conferences and even chats. We wave to each other through virtual mechanisms. What we forget is that we are slowly losing the human touch, why even love and marriages are made through the virtual world. The virtual world and the real overlap in a way, that one cannot distinguish one from the other. Information is garnered from the virtual world. This is the world of information explosion. We have virtual classrooms and online learning. True the internet has revolutionised our lives, radicalised our social, political and educational moorings. But we soon realised its ambivalence in the form of fake news and hate talk in social networking sites. So the global community soon had fissures within it. Technology was both boon and bane, but optimists continued to have faith in its virtues although terrorists continued to use it exponentially. It was a complexity that only human beings in a state of reflection could comprehend. The choice was simple: use it positively or for subversive things. Love co existed with hate.

Then came the corona virus afflicting the whole world and rumours and false news also spread through the internet. But the virus brought together the whole world and our country in a common fight against the sickness. And the clarion call was to battle it out to safeguard your health. This was a real scare where every individual thought that he or she might be a victim. The world was one and so our country. Soon teaching became purely online as students were at home, outside the four walls of the classroom. Social interaction continued through social networking sites, but ironically enough we were pleading for a social distancing, considering the virulence and contagious nature of the disease. We mingled superstition too, trying to shoo away the virus by beating drums and sounding gongs.The fear was ubiquitous, crossing boundaries of countries. And the world ironically became one and borderless. It was not technology which brought the world together but a deadly virus and of course technology which lay firmly saddled of being both an agent provocateur and a virtue continued to play its double edged role. Rumours and wrong advisories were rampant.New terminologies such as social distancing, which actually meant physical distancing entered our vocabulary. This became truly an existential predicament. No ontology or philosophy here but a crass reality and an engulfing fear throughout the country and the world. And we will have to live with it for days to come. How will technology help us here unless we have a vaccine to combat this dreaded disease? When will it come? WHO says twelve to eighteen months, that is a pretty long time, and the virus scientists say will be around. People have likened this to a war, the Third World War. And what was the only way of fighting it: physical distancing, we of course use the misnomer ‘ social distancing’ but as long as the virulence continues there may be actual social distancing. We will be fearful and apprehensive of meeting each other and talking to each other, and have no option but to fall back upon the World Wide Web to fulfil our gregarious ends.

In between we saw reverse migration in India where there were tragic deaths. The innate human goodness came to the fore as good samaritans started garnering food, shelter and clothes for the poor and daily wage workers. We realised that technology which is a means not an end, could not be an antidote. It is only the human touch, the human transcendental love for human beings. Here in Shillong many individual and social and religious groups are rendering yeoman service to the poor and homeless. This shows that human beings can rise over technology and rise in oneness for the poor, irrespective of circumstances irrespective of caste, community and creed.

Let us be clear of one thing. Technology can only be the means to serve an end. The end is human good or benignity. The end is man serving man, the end is love and a common good. For too long have we thought that materialistic benefits are for the common good. Yes it is if it is equalitarianism. But this is not so in India and the world. Could technology fight this disruption that was caused world over? No we depended on human restrictions to curb, mind you not cure the menace.

The good life Bertrand Russell once said in his essay ‘ What I Believe” is one which is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. We have made a beginning, let love and rationality be the twin concomitants to build and strengthen the edifice of humanity.

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