There is a Chinese saying, the best blessing you can give anyone is, "May you live in exciting times". Today, I am jealous of the new generation since they truly live in exciting times, more of which lie ahead. Wherever you look, exciting things are happening, and it is good to take a broader look at the times ahead.
Science is reaching new heights. Space science, of course, has been the toast of recent times. With the Chandrayaan a feather in its cap and the Mangalyaan well on its way, Indian space scientists have achieved some truly spectacular feats. At the same time, just as
Engineers in the Stone Age, for instance, would have simply designed better ways of delivering stones to each other's heads. It needed science to think of the bow and arrow. The Stone Age did not come to an end because they ran out of stones! Clearly, the people needed to work on engineering problems need to have different mindsets and training from those working on scientific problems. Soon,
Even in this education scenario, new technologies will have as much impact as new laws. With increasing emphasis on universal education and improved higher education, parts of Indian society that have so far remained outside of the purview of education, and hence not been able to contribute to
Another interesting feature is that we are practically skipping the difficulties scientists studying physics in the 18th century
Similarly, the most exciting times in the field of technology are yet to come. Work in technologies of high precision and high reliability are already merging computers, televisions, telephones, cameras and video and integrating them into one gigantic web called the Internet. With increasingly efficient technology, new information is continuously created and handled. This has completely altered our concept of space and time.
Today, kitchens in American eateries are being run from
Yet, there are some ideas that have eluded us. Holography and transistors were invented in the same year and yet, we have not been able to transmit 3-dimensional images. The current method does not use holography and is instead a painfully direct method of measuring the entire image and transferring this information bit by bit.
Travel is another area that has seen dramatic change. Every form of travel, from mass transport to leisure, has become more comfortable even as computers and the internet are making business travel increasingly less essential. However, it is interesting to note that we still prefer to see people than just listen to their voices. Telephones could not make travel redundant the way video conferences have done.Likewise, a revolution in computer technology has provided us with new capabilities. Simulation and virtual reality have allowed us to see, fathom and experiment with objects that exist only as bits of binary digits inside a computer. You can now walk through and get the feel of a house well before it is physically constructed. New materials are also transforming our ability to create things that would be beyond the imagination of even the best of scientists a generation ago.
Major changes are expected in other areas as well. In politics, for instance, we will soon have to decide whether we want a slow soft-spoken government that is preoccupied with consensus-building, or an aggressive government driven by a strong faith in our past, or an idealistic government with simplistic view of life and governance where everything is black and white. Moreover, the Right to Information (RTI) Act now allows people to investigate the dark depths of the working of our governments with unprecedented detail. The Lokpal Bill will add a new dimension to this supervision on the working of our rulers.
our obsession of who we are and how we are seen by the world is also beginning to take centre stage. As we project ourselves as a soft power - a nation that prides itself in its gentle but well thought out, if somewhat soft-spoken, approach to world problems in contrast to some nations that wish to bully the world - we confront situations where demonstration of force appears essential. The power may not be actual military power, it may be economic, or simply the force of a well-argued case, or a novel solution to an old problem, or conquests in intellectual competitions - power can be demonstrated in many ways. At the same time, we are not averse to building military muscle that will allow us to physically control events in a wide range of theatres, especially in and around the
Yet, internally, we are as confused as ever.
When we gained independence, it was clear
So old challenges remain and new ones arise.
Then there are the problems of democracy. Elections are expensive and dependent on donations. Donors regard this as an investment and desire hefty returns on their donations, which makes the system endemically corrupt. To make matters worse, the government handles so much money that there is always a temptation amongst mortals to keep some for themselves. Anonymous donations through public charity cannot raise the kind of resources needed over a sustained period of time. This is major flaw of democracy, and while many countries have confronted this problem, there is really no satisfactory solution. Another problem of democracy is that it is majoritarian: the voice of the majority decides the policies. This can make minorities, whether they are gender-based, linguistic, religious, cultural, etc., mistrustful and afraid, and can often result in instabilities. Again, we really have no good solution to this, except to hope and pray that the people who rule us are wise rather than shrewd. The cacophony of news channels and the continuous glare of the media are also not conducive to thoughtful working of the government. When a politician's sound bites attract more attention and publicity than a well thought out policy initiative, we are in trouble and are more likely to be rushed into bad decisions than good.
There are, of course, other old fashioned challenges. Pollution, environmental degradation, limits of resources, overcrowding and tendency of some towards extremism arising from a sense of alienation to their roots are some issues that need to be addressed, and urgently.
However, whatever one's personal perspective, there is no denying that we live in exciting times, where the challenges to the nation, in governance, in meeting the increasing aspirations of the people and in intellectual creativity to take the nation ahead are exciting, and the book of life does not have answers at the back of the book - these are unsolved problems that need to be solved.
Most importantly, we need at least a large fraction of population that can think for itself . There is too much cacophony around, and separating noise from information is increasingly more difficult. Talking nonsense is no longer a fringe activity; many people we would call "mainstream" are not averse to talking nonsense, or worse, being 'economical with the truth'. So we need eternal vigilance.
But, to be vigilant we need the capacity for independent thinking. We can no longer afford to blindly agree to anything or with any group on faith. We need to have thought about the subject before we define our opinion and once we define our position, defend it when defendable and change it when new information comes. This dynamism needs to be a common feature of our life.
Next, we need to learn to adapt, and not panic and give in to the fear of end of life or end of civilisation as we know it. Too many people have provided themselves with a good life by scaring others - even if it is retribution after death.
To achieve this, we need to read. Words can be spoken carelessly but are rarely written carelessly. Hence, written material is generally well articulated - or at least the garbage is easier to identify and discard. We also need to have our opinion validated and confirmed, so discussions help - arguments don't but discussions do. To achieve this, never identify yourself with your ideas. Ideas can be wrong, and one should be willing to accept this. Remember, anything is easier to get into than out of.
The bottom line is that we need to be better educated, and not just better informed. As Einstein pointed out, education is what remains when all that is learnt is forgotten.
I believe that as we move forward in these exciting times, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
* Who is an Indian?
* What are the problems that technology can't solve?
* How do people with no access to a particular technology live?
* How does the technology we use really work?
* How much of what we use is essential, and how much is luxury?
So let us get attentive and enjoy the exciting times that are all around us. Dr
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