SETI at Home

Changing times

My younger daughter thinks I come from a black & white world much like the majority of photographs from my youth. The photos and movies from that period are in monotone because, according to her simple logic, my world was actually black & white. She has no clue what films or negatives are and how at one time we had to wait for the film to develop and then get it printed before I could see the content of the photograph I had taken. Often that took several days before the advent of 3-hour and then 1-hour photo processing services.

sunset on manisha lakeShe thinks photos are instant – just like in her phone – and all we need to do is point the cell phone at the printer and color prints pop out of its bay. She can’t figure out what cassette tapes or video tapes are for. Or how with each time it is played, the sound or the video drops off a little at a time till you can barely make out content from the noise. We haven’t had a player for either format for better part of this decade. I did have a audio cassette deck till recently but its rubber belts decomposed long ago and I never found any replacements. Now they are extinct.

flames from a recent havanSo much useful technology is vanishing as emerging trends and fashions obliterate stuff trusted for generations. Recently while cleaning around the house I found an ancient Kodak 110 cartridge camera – fixed focus and a shutter release button. No other controls. The shutter still worked and its built in flash still flashed. The last time I actually remember using it was at least twenty years back. And I don’t remember any photo studio selling 110 format film in the last decade or any film for the last five years, at least not on the mainline shelves.

I also found an old Sony Dictaphone which uses those small micro-cassettes ubiquitous in that age. I remember I had an answering machine that used those tapes. The Dictaphone is from a time when Sony products were still made in Japan and proudly proclaimed that as a mark of their outstanding workmanship. I probably bought this in 1993. Now, of course, it does not work. I opened it up and both its rubber belts had crumbled and the pieces were stuck around the pulley and body of the unit. The motor still spins perfectly but I don’t think I’ll find any new belts for it. Without those, it’s useless in its function.

Like I mentioned in my last entry, fountain pens too are a loss of the times. Some of the icons from our past were definitely worth saving – more as functional units than just antique memorabilia. And it doesn’t end with material ‘things’. No more writing letters longhand I remember from my childhood. How my primary education was saturated with colorful letter writing exercises to so many people under so many conditions – from the milkman to the President. People don’t do that anymore. Now its just a few undecipherable (to the uninitiated at least) acronyms over WhatsApp or Facebook. And the sender always expects instant recognition – and gets it most of the time. Whereas at one time, photography was planned and executed with precision and purpose with the result that those photos are still precious. But now it’s more like point and shoot unlimited times a day, even mundane subjects like lunch.

I think a lot more has been lost in all this technology than what we celebrate as gains.

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