“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do one thing at once; This steady attention to one object is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”
–Lord Chesterfield, from his work ‘letters to his son’ 1768.
One crucial development in the process of human evolution was the ability of learning to walk on two legs, the biped upright stance. Man suddenly became ‘handsfree’. His eyes would watch for the predators, his legs ready to carry him away in case of sighting one, but his hands were free to do various tasks, from cooking to eating, from drawing to tool making, to put his kids to sleep or lending a helping hand to his fellow human. Human multitasking had arrived.
November 20 1985 Bill gates introduced the Windows operating system. The computer ceased to be a glorified typewriter, it could now write, draw, paint, generate spreadsheets and create PowerPoint slides. The American elite were so impressed by this new expensive toy, that 300,000 of them were sitting in American homes by the end of 1991.
On the 9 th December 1991 all that changed. At the imitative of senator Albert Arnold Gore (Al Gore) the US senate passed the High Performance Computing Act, enabling the public at large to use the high speed fiber optic network, the internet. In the next 5 years more than 10 million computers were sold. The computer could now browse, chat, mail, smile, or even fall prey to virus.
The computer too became a multitasker, just about a million years after their human counterpart.
I suddenly noticed that my watch stopped without a notice. I had to go to the airport to catch the morning flight to Mumbai for that important lecture, and no time to get the watch battery replaced. As usual my wife came out with a quickfix solution. She gave me my son’s watch and told me that she will do the talking and diffuse the evolving crisis when the aggrieved party reaches home after school. I strapped on the digital gadget and left home. It was 10:02. The traffic was slow and serpentine, the check in was laborious, the security check tedious. After security I sat down with a cup of coffee and had a look at my son’s watch again and almost spilled the coffee. Ohh my God, It still flashed 10:02. What’s wrong? Two watches going bad on a single day defeats Murphy’s law which says anything that can go wrong would go wrong. And then I realized, it was just displaying today’s date10th February. I started to fiddle with the controls to set the device to show me what a watch is intended to show – time. Finally I located the small button on the left-hand side and pressed it. An flurocent green light from outer space filled the screen. I looked around to see if anyone was watching me and then pressed it again. A stopwatch started moving at high speed, emanating a beep every 30 seconds. By the time I could stop it 2:45:32 had passed. In the next few minutes the digital device showed me the ambient temperature, the relative humidity, the barometric pressure and the altitude, but not the time. Boarding was announced, ending my experiments with truth. I realized that the watch did not fail me; I failed to watch for my inadequacy in gadget knowledge. I cannot multitask.
My old Nokia cell phone has only a keypad, and all that I can do is to dial a number. The other day I tried to make a call using my daughter’s smartphone since my phone was out of charge. . The screen first asked me to draw bizarre designs. After a few trials it announced that the screen is permanently locked. My daughter unlocked it in a jiffy and but then I was unable to the keypad. The app that looked like a telephone took me to a game, the one looking like a keypad opened up a calculator. Finally as I was dialing the number, a new call came in, making a green icon blink, the mail icon on top announced arrival of mail while couple of her chat buddies face popped up on the screen. The confused prehistoric father did what was the best he could, handover the smart phone to the representative of the smart generation. My call can wait.
‘Smart phones are for smart people, commented my daughter as I was trying to highlight the simplicity my old cell phone. Use it for a few days and you would learn, she said.
It is already a million years now, it is not worthwhile another trial.
Lord Chesterfield would agree.
Tiny Nair Cardiologist