A new age conversation


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Category: Reflections Date: 05 Nov 00

Iím in an Internet cafe surrounded by a bunch of boisterous teenagers, some downloading pornographic photographs, getting into chat rooms with dirty talk; other occupants are in cubicles are sending e-mail, chatting, or working.


There was an argument between two people: raven-haired computer expert and the blonde artist. The air was thick with eavesdropping.


Blonde: You cannot substitute sitting with a bottle of wine with someone, being able to see and feel his or her reaction, on the net. Itís a piss-poor substitute for reality.


Raven: Itís a good way of keeping in touch until you see that person again.


Blonde: (passionately) If I canít have it all I donít want it at all. It takes a long-distance relationship and makes it boring. I would rather remember passion than watch it whittle away. Chatting on the Net makes you unhappy with your life, makes you not see whatís right in front of you, makes you want to be elsewhere.


Raven: Nonsense! Itís a cheap way of friends staying in touch. I know someone who lives for that. She works in the day. In the nights she chats with her friends thousands of miles away. She could never afford to go visit them or call them up, but she can chat on the Net.


Blonde: Sad life. It sounds like sheís chewing her cud. Feeding back information to herself. Look, if I am having a horrible day, a friend can look at me and say come on, letís go cheer you up. What can a virtual chat pal do?


Raven: There are real people at the other end of the computer, you know.


Blonde: But how real is that? When you have a little window where you can hide behind the computer, put forward any fake mask on show. There is no risk because so little is given. Itís difficult to look someone in the eye and say, ďI love you.Ē Much easier to type it out. Just words.


Raven: The computer was not meant to be a replacement for life. In fact, it frees you up, buys time because you can pay your water and electricity rates, do your banking, trade stocks, book flights and holidays on the Net. The Net provides employment, gives you access to education, a career change, information, research, advertising, fundraising. IT makes life easier all around, runs business programmes, allows you to work from home, conduct meetings with people from all over the world. Knowledge is power and itís an equaliser.


Blonde: It also creates deficient adolescents who get hooked on porn and gambling. It makes them even inarticulate because they hide behind a machine and they donít have to interface with anyone. Their already limited social skills are wiped out. 


Raven: In the UK, hundreds of schoolchildren no longer have the excuse that theyíve left their homework at home because their school computers are hooked up with their home computers. They have access to a world of research and possibility.


Blonde: I agree itís a great perk.  It does all this, but what are we the people of this world doing with this so-called technological revolution? Nothing. Itís totally self-serving.


Raven: Fantastic things. It has sped up access to research, to database in medicine, in science.


Blonde: A machine canít perform an operation.


Raven: Yes, but doctors for instance have access to thousands of case histories so they can serve their patients better. Patients are more informed. Everybody is better informed and knowledge is power.


Blonde: Maybe, but not enough. Tell me, in the last century weíve had the invention penicillin, antibiotics, basic shots without which would have in the past left many dead. What invention have we had despite this glut of information? How has it helped the world any?  Artificial intelligence will never replace the real thing. There is too much information, and not enough humanity.


Raven: You canít dismiss artificial intelligence. People can use the accumulated experience of a lot of other people and learn from it. It is being used in developmental projects in rural India, Bangladesh, in less-developed countries, to empower people.


Blonde: The problem is when you remove your emotional self from activities as you invariably do with the computer you are left with something that is dry and dehumanised. You create a world where there is no gratification, constant yearning. The bottom line is that we need to get a grip on our own lives, on ourselves, and cannot use the computer as a prop and substitute for real life. You canít replace the human spirit.


Raven: I think you donít like change. That you were born to live in a garden covered in yellow roses and restore oil paintings. But I have to agree with you on one point. Nothing can replace the sweat and warmth of the human touch, and you canít replace the human spirit with a computer. Nor should we try.


All around me people were tap, tap, tapping away.


But I have to agree... nothing can replace the sweat and warmth of the human touch, and you canít replace the human spirit with a computer.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur