Yet Untitled Lite 003 - retro tech got me thinking about respect
On seeing my first mobile phone displayed as a museum peace
The Nokia 3330 was a pretty formidable device.
There was a lot you could do with it. Left in the hands of my musically gifted brother Aman, it even managed to belt out The Doors’ RIDERS ON THE STORM in an interesting 8-bit rendition that would make my friends cringe back in 2001 (I can still hear it vividly!).
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Texting on those numerical keys used to be tactile and quick with far fewer errors than I make on my smartphone today. It olso led 2 langwge lk ths (which was entertaining).
The thing was light as a feather, held charge for days and did it’s job well. And now, it’s busy being Mona Lisa at the National Museum of Singapore as a part of an exhibition about “technology that changed our lives 1970-2000s”.
I was struck by two things -
1. Technology is changing and updating very quickly.
2. We are slowly distancing ourselves from technology, losing our connection with it as it begins to function as a thing in itself via movements and processes we never see.
Did I lose you?
What I mean is - the last time you took a printout, did you actually see the letters being formed on the page via the miracle of impact between ink, lead and paper? I’m pretty sure that the answer is No.
I tried to convey this to dear daughters Ananya and Aahaha as they tried their hands at operating typewriters and rotary telephones. The haptics were nostalgic and delicious. I missed them. I remembered a time when these machines and I used to be close, their touch and feel familiar and comforting.
These days, I change my phone every few years. The new one completely replaces the old one, and the old one disappears into some unknown cycle of reselling or e-waste management. Technology lives and dies around us, being resurrected to serve us again and then concede to be annihilated as per our whim.
The effect of reading that BBC article about an AI becoming sentient lingers in my head, making me think that we need to start thinking about our relationship with technology afresh, taking me back to the conversation Neo from the Matrix has in Part 3 when talking about man’s increasingly symbiotic relationship with machines in the future.
It is pointed out to Neo that a machine controls the water supply in the fantastic underground city where the last bastion of humankind hide from machines who hunt them down. “I don’t know how that machine works,” he is told, “but if it were to stop working, we would all die. But I do know that if I wanted, I could turn it off.”
I think afresh of my laptop, my smartphone, my iPad and the Cloud behind them that connects them all, that carries an imprint of my life in the form of photographs, sequences of language and other bits of information that make my life work today.
Like how it was pointed out to Neo, I don’t see this tech working, but it’s there, and I can’t help feeling that I owe it something. Respect?
Technology may not be sentient at the moment, but one day - if it turns sentient - how will I respond to it? As a master, or as a fellow being?
I wonder if these are things I should be teaching my children, because they will be taking this crazy relationship with technology forward. Could we already consider making this relationship a respectful one as it develops?
Can an inanimate object respond to respect?
The video above reminded me that it can. Our VCR famously chewed up tapes on a whim, inviting the ire of Lali the video shop owner, and our frustration when the family was dying to watch Octopussy for the 20th time.
You had to talk gently to the dang machine and load the tape in measured movements. And then the thing would play.
Give me a shout if you have experienced the same.
That said, another thing I learn from my Buddhist practice is that when we bow to the Buddha present in all of life, it bows back to us. While this may be a stretch to imagine with something made or metal, plastic and silicone, I find that applying ourselves to engage respectfully with anything has a better outcome than if we don’t.
Thank you for listening to these fragments of thoughts from a small island midway between Singapore and Australia.
I’ll leave you with a question:
What’s a piece or tech you respect and have a special relationship with?
Tell me, I want to know!