My slow journey off 'offline'

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 17, 2013 01:00 hrs

When I was small, I was a voracious letter writer. I probably got it from my father. In my seven years of Sainik School life, he sent more than 1000 letters to me. That encouraged me and I myself have written thousands of letters in my life to friends and family.

Since I had an incomprehensible handwriting, I took to using the ole typewriter which anyone rarely used in my house when I was about 10. That lent a lot of gravity to my letters. I used to buy all the new stamps that came out and experiment with different type of pages and envelopes.

Telegrams were especially exciting and every one preserved had some memory attached to it. (That's dead now)

I actually used to love hanging around at the local post office and take in the smell of the stationery and gum!

Then email happened and it totally killed the magic of the postal world, which is now more of a thing of necessity than one of joy.

The second world was that of newspapers and magazines. Again, I had been flicking through magazines like Time and Newsweek right from when I was small. At first it was just for the pictures, then the headlines and captions and finally the whole article.

I still remember the thrill of the newspaper before sunrise. The moment you saw it early in the morning you felt electrified and connected to an entire world. At first we used to take the Indian Express. "The fauji choice," explained my neighbour with a twinkle in his eye, "since we have to be pro-establishment in the office, we can at least read something which is anti-establishment otherwise!"

We switched to Times of India when my sister studied journalism as it was the only newspaper which "followed all the rules". (Today is it being studied for the one paper which breaks all the rules?)

One day I remember when I returned from my morning walk I saw the newspaper which had two words: "Rajiv Assassinated" above the masthead!
"I read that technique in my journalism book," said my sister smugly.

For those who don't know, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated after 10 in the night in 1991 at a time when there was no 24X7 TV. Most of India was sleeping or going to sleep. Only those people who had phones called each other to pass on the news and jam the lines in the process. There were others who listened to late night radio bulletins.

For most Indians like me, the news was a bolt from the blue and a massive shock and that's why the headline was placed above the masthead in exceptional cases for effect!

Then online news happened. Imagine reading some interesting article in the night only for it to come two days later in the newspaper! Online news is like 100 meters dasher Asafa Powell while the newspaper is a 100-year-old man with a walking stick.

There is great depth in cyberspace too. I once read one brilliant online article in one sitting in the Atlantic which was a whopping 15,000 words long. How many magazines would I have to buy in real life to get that kind of goldmine of an article?

Today if the entire print industry collapsed overnight, I wouldn't even notice!

After that came the end of the romance with movie halls. Friday releases and balconies sounded really divine during school days. However going to movie halls has its pitfalls: Crying babies, the rare tall man sitting in front of you and the hassle of actually going there when you want to spend a lazy weekend at home.

I'm also part of a rare breed of individuals who hate Bollywood songs and find them quite disruptive. I used to walk out of the movie halls during the songs much to the chagrin of my wife. TV is better, but there are the endless ad breaks.

The solution is the good old DVD player, but then the computer trumps even that. Nothing beats that interface where you can skip and re-watch any part of the movie right down to the second.

If you've done it, then nothing comes close to the thrill of Pause + Alt-Tab to the web browser in order to clarify something on Wikipedia or IMDB or Google. I find the YouTube small screen much richer than the 3D screen in a multiplex. I think my brain has already been rewired.
We were all argumentative dining room debaters when we were small and would seek out the wisest uncle or aunty in the neighbourhood to dispel our doubts or simply cycle to the library. Of course, the Internet has totally killed that world.

The final bastion I thought would never fall was the world of books. Right from when I could remember, I used to visit the library to read and borrow books. A day not spent in the library was a day totally wasted. My first library allowed me to borrow four books a day and that quota would be fully used six days a week. (How could certain libraries be closed on Sundays?)

While web browsing has replaced hanging out in the library, I felt nothing could replace the good old book. You can read it in your bed, in the bus or even in the loo. An Englishman never left his home without an umbrella and I never left home without a book.

I have absolutely lost count of the number of books I have read in buses, planes, trains, queues, waiting rooms...I thought this would be one thing that would stick right till old age.

Then one day my father-in-law presented me an e-reader in the form of a Nook and even that last bastion has come crumbling down. I can no longer read physical books and have become totally addicted to the Nook.

I would gladly consign all my books to the loft to make space for something else in my book cupboard. Horror of horrors I no longer feel like walking into a library or a book shop.

I am in danger of totally falling off the offline grid.

Those science fiction writers of the early twentieth century thought of everything. In one short story I read, all of humanity goes underground and is captive to a screen that provides humans all the information, entertainment and religion they require turning humanity into a race of hermits who have no need of physically seeing each other.

I fear that day has already come!

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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. 

He blogs here

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