I fought hard against it. Earlier this year, when it was time to upgrade my cellphone, I was told that this was the time to move on to better, newer technology, but I was adamant. I did not want to check my email 24/ 7 and I certainly did not like being strapped to a gadget all day. No, I did not need an iPhone or a Blackberry. Those devices that allow you to browse the Internet, check on directions to a new restaurant, listen to music or check email long after office hours from your palm would serve no purpose in my life.
My relationship with technology has always been complex, one of resistance and avoidance, but I have come to realise that I should be choosier about the battles I fight, especially in the US where technology is omnipresent. When I first moved here, the machines at every turn intimidated me. Self-service check-outs at the grocery stores, dozens of flashy washer-dryers in the basements of every apartment building, mechanised entries at the parking lots, it was endless. Even buying a subway ticket would entail an encounter with an automated machine, prompting and flashing different codes all the way. All my efforts to avoid them proved pointless, for to find human assistance involved too long a wait or ended too often in disappointment. I slowly started to go over to the other side.
I learnt that machines are not really that clever, and they do not blow up if you do something wrong. Nor do they chew up the credit cards, or charge me twice when I press the wrong button. I realised that email — the only reason I ever went online till then — was just the tip of the iceberg. There was a whole new universe waiting on my laptop, from buying tickets for a Broadway play, to signing up for yoga classes or connecting with long-lost friends on Myspace or Facebook.
Like a true revolution, technology was upgrading the lives of the most unusual suspects. My in-laws on their annual visits to the US logged in every morning to check on Calcutta news through the numerous Bengali newspapers online. They stayed connected with the waterlogged streets, the pujo preparations or the mahamichil, in spite of the suburban American life that encircled them. My young cousins researched for their school projects on the Net, visiting countries they have never been to.
But I still find it hard to reconcile with many aspects of today’s technology. It breaks down when you need it most. The social dilemma of being hounded on Facebook by “friends” you don’t want to be found by, or the fortune-bringing chain emails. With lurkers’ anonymity and an amplified presence, the virtual world seems to have become invaded by the same reckless, unsocial behaviour that one strives to avoid in the real world.
I cannot be blind, though, to the benefits I have gained thanks to technology, such as the luxury of staying close to home even when I am not. Being able to buy a birthday cake online for my sister in India while sitting in New York or acquiring a new morning ritual — that of carrying on a conversation with my father in Calcutta via SMS. Or the momentary thrill of receiving the advance SMS from the Obama Campaign declaring Joe Biden as his running mate.
So somewhere along the way, my cellphone has given way to a Blackberry. But the way I use it first thing in the morning and the last thing at night, is just like I feared. I don’t own the Blackberry, it owns me.