COPING WITH A DIGITAL WORLD!

LEARNING: On the one hand the digital world makes it possible for you to study in the world’s best universities without physical travelling, you can also work from home, avoiding the trauma of commuting to office.

By Rajan Narayan

The aam aadmi, particularly the senior citizen, may find it increasingly difficult to live and work in the new digital world. From booking tickets to shows at the International Film Festival of India to paying electricity and phone bills to getting married or applying to the passport, you will be severely handicapped if you are not computer and smartphone savvy….

EVEN if the Covid-19 vaccine succeeds in containing the pandemic life may never be the same again. Those who have got used to working from home may not want to return to the office! This is because going to an office may entail the stress of commuting. In Mumbai for instance, while the bulk of employees live in the suburbs, offices are located in south Mumbai.
Admittedly many offices have shifted to the Bandra-Kurla area or to lower Parel now called upper Worli. Upper Worli is now made up of all the land that became available when the textile mills of Mumbai closed down. The Bandra-Kurla complex is the new Nariman Point of Mumbai. Indeed, because of the exorbitant cost of real estate in Mumbai even the US Embassy White House which was located on Warden road by the sea has shifted to the Bandra-Kurla precinct.
The head offices of the data centre which houses the booming Jio is in Knowledge City in Navi Mumbai. The shift in the location of offices has not helped employees as they have already invested in homes in flats in distant suburbs on the outskirts of Mumbai east and west and it is even more difficult commuting to their new offices. For instance, if the offices of the Times of India and most of the other newspaper offices have shifted to upper Worli, the employees may have to take two trains and a bus to get to office.
The dramatic digital transformation of the world and India has meant that it does not matter where you have your office or where you stay. You can work for an IT office in Mumbai sitting in your residence in Goa! The major problem in Mumbai of course is the main means of public transport is the most economical electric suburban railway which have not resumed operations yet because of Covid-19 issues. As collateral damage all those who used to depend on the dabbawala service to get their lunch from home are frustrated – as the service has collapsed.

WITHER EDUCATION

THIS is also true of education. There are many elite colleges in the United States as Harvard, Yale and Stanford which seem to be favourites of Goan industrialists; these institutions are now all offering admission and educational courses online. The on-going argument about where the Goa campus of the Indian Institute of Technology should be is irrelevant! It does not matter where it is located if its courses can be offered online. There is no reason why the Mumbai IIT cannot offer courses to Goans who qualify for IIT education right here in their own homes in Goa.
A colleague is doing a course in digital marketing from the Manipal Institute of Computer Education where the teacher is interacting with students from Bangalore or Bengaluru! At least in theory you can study in the best colleges in India and the world if post- Covid-19 they continue to offer courses digitally. But there is never going to be any substitute for on the ground physical learning! People go to Harvard in the United States and Oxford in the United Kingdom for the physical interaction they can have with their teachers. Particularly since the ratio of students to teach us is very low unlike in India where more than 100 students occupy each class. People go to the best colleges like St Stephans in Delhi or Lady Sriram because they have the best libraries and facilities for extracurricular activities.
This may sound like a joke but many students go to a particular college because the canteen is much more vibrant as say in a St Xavier’s College than a government college in Ponda! The 64 billion dollar question is will colleges and schools go back to good old-fashioned physical learning now that they have discovered how much digital learning is cheaper and convenient?
Take the case of primary school children. It is a mad rush for the family every morning. Persuade the child to have breakfast. Get the child to dress up, put right textbooks in bag, water bottle, lunch-box, etc. Finally drop of the child to school yourself or to the bus stop to catch a bus. There may be school buses but parents may trust them or not as per reports. Whereas with e-learning parents need not have to go through any of the trauma of packing children off to school. But on the other hand the mother is deprived of her holiday from a children when they go to the school!

IFFI BLUES

The 51ST International Film Fesstival of India in Goa from January 16 to 24, 2021 have been considered great success by the organisers. Goa has reportedly being praised for organising the film festival despite the presence of Covid-19. Goa has taken the risk of holding such an event even if it may result in a huge spike in the number of coronavirus cases. Holding IFFI may affect not just Goans registered as delegates and media but those involved in organising the event, also delegates coming from various parts of the country. We still do not know what impact holding the last year’s missed IFFI in Goa will have on Covid-19 numbers in the near future. Will there be a spike in infections despite all the precautions taken by IFFI organizers?
At this point of time is it hard to say whether the decision to go ahead with IFFI was an act of foolish bravado or indeed, a courageous, successful experiment. The fact remains that only 200 people were permitted to attend the opening and closing ceremonies at the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukerjee Stadium which has the capacity to fill up 4,000 people. In the auditoriums where physical screenings were held only 50% of the seats were used to maintain physical distancing. The number of delegates coming from outside Goa was much less than those registering from Goa.
Perhaps the biggest failure of the 51st IFFI was that not one of the mega stars turned up! In previous years many of the top stars of Bollywood and Tollywood made it to Goa to walk the red carpets rolled out for them to promote their latest films. This time the chief guest for the opening ceremony was the hero from Karnataka Sudeep Kichcha. The closing ceremony had a grandmotherly Zeenat Aman!
So why is everyone talking about a great IFFI when even the master classes were online? The IFFI powers that be were convinced that paper transmits the corona virus – so there were no film schedule brochures to aid delegates to decide which film they wanted to view, what the film was about and who director, producer, actors. Damn it, there were no tickets. You had to apply and get your personal IFFI account online confirmed and all details were posted digitally on your smart hand phone. Do your own booking and cancelling of film tickets being screened online and only online. Film registrations were recorded on your delegate’s card slung around your neck and his was checked at INOX and Kala Academy entrances where there was elaborate security. So what happens to senior delegates like me who are smartphone challenged?
THE worst legacy of Covid-19 may be the reversal of globalisation. Before Covid-19 we were in the process of the whole world coming together. This was partly provoked by the fact that industry moved to countries where the labour costs were lowest. Which means 90% of Apple phones are made in China! Fortunately for India many of the Apple contractors have moved to India because of the anti-China sentiment vis-à-vis the origins of the spread of the coronavirus contagion being in China. Particularly, because of the one meter physical distance rule many assembly lines started imposing on robots instead of human workers.
So we must ask: Is digitalisation of the world resulting in the huge job losses? Will people start programming Alexia to do all their house work in the 6G or 7G version of Internet? Will Artificial Intelligence replace real intelligence? Apparently, in China they are conducting experiments not only on facial recognition but also on emotional recognition.
Imagine a world in which you need no have to go out to work, to study, to eat, to shop for all your household requirements. Thanks to Amazon, Zomato and Myntra and the rest of them everything will appear at your doorstep! Will all the warmth of physical social interaction vanish? Will we be confined to our houses as if we are undergoing a jail sentence?
Incidentally, the biggest international events like the Gammy awards for music and the Oscar awards for films have been postponed! Even they with all the infrastructure in place do not want to take the risk of holding the events which sees the stars of tinsel land holding forth. Even the Olympics scheduled to take place in Tokyo have been postponed, or cancelled for the time being or as long as it takes to come to terms with the dreaded pandemic.

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