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Coming to terms with the future

  By Vijay Darda | 13-04-2015

We always find it engrossing when some predictions made about the future start coming true during our lifetime. In this respect, the Tofflers-Alvin and Heidi — an American couple that began writing best-selling books like the Future Shock, The Third Wave, War and Anti-War- from the 1970s onwards have been particularly impressive. Now, for instance we have all come alive to the power of computer technology in our daily lives only for the last decade or so. But Alvin Toffler had said way back in1994: “War is not going to be fought just with material weapons, but with electronic terrorism. We know a former US intelligence officer, he is deep into artificial intelligence and computers, who says if you give him 20 people and $ 1 million, which is peanuts, he can shut America down. There a few nodes that are highly vulnerable — he knows exactly where. They could shut down every computer, they could shut down the banking system, the ATM machines, the hospitals and transportation systems. You only need one superhacker, he could work for Tehran, he could work for Zhirinovsky”. Now, the super-hacking may not have taken place, but then in 2001 seven years later with just 19 people we did witness the use of technology– aircraft loaded with fuel being used to unleash an act of terrorism that has changed the face of the world and killed more than 3500 persons. Now, war is not the old fashioned combat.

Now, look at what Toffler said at the same time about the use of language and messages. “Heidi and I are asked all over the world — can we become the Third Wave and stay Chinese, or English or Mexican? The answer is you can’t stay anything. The Third Wave permits and even encourages cultural diversity. You can define your own unique culture, but it isn’t going to be the culture of the past and it’s going to be configured out of elements that come from outside. When you have messages beamed to you automatically translated into your own language, and you watch television from Nigeria or Fiji, or anywhere in the world you gradually pluck pieces or elements from those cultures and put them together. Then you create your own unique English — of the future — culture or Japanese-of-the-future-culture. People do not simply relive the past.”

Who can say that all this is not happening in our lifetime? For someone in denial mode, it would be opportune to spend a few minutes to watch the Deepika Padukone video “My choice” on the internet and get a reality check. Or to look at the changing social landscape with new norms of man-woman relationships, the coming out of closet of the same sex relations, the single parenting, the what’s app revolution that brings all intimate moments in public domain and as yet unexplored and uncharted terrain that could lead us to future changes.

It is interesting that when the Tofflers began their writings in the late 60s, they were simply moved by the fact that the politicians who run the system in the US were utterly unprepared to handle the future as the administrative apparatus had been put in place by a past generation of leaders. Now, for us, the challenge is much tougher. We have all along been bragging that we are 5,000- year-old civilisation that has grappled with every challenge (from Pushpak Viman of the Ramayan fame to plastic surgery of Lord Ganesh) and for us the only road to achieving greatness, and becoming the Vishwa guru once again is to rediscover the ancient knowledge. This kind of boast has always been there but now it has the government sanction, and even scientists do not hesitate to make such pronouncements at gathering that are expected to deal with proven theories and concepts.

The points that are made by the Tofflers and Deepika with varying degree of emphasis and conviction at their command are very simple and can be ignored only at our peril. The world is changing, and is changing beyond recognition. We have only one option and that is to be prepared for it. The challenges from the dangers of technology being harnessed to unleash massive violence or destruction can only be countered with appropriate technological responses. This has to be a continuous process keeping in mind that for every defensive device against any weapon, it is just a matter of time before the attacker develops an update that beats this defence.

However, the changes in the social landscape are far too turbulent, and call for a change in individual and societal mindsets. Besides, being difficult these are too tough to internalise. Moreover, as humans we are really slow to adapt to such changes. In addition, there can be a uniformity about technological changes, but the changes in the social landscape can hardly be uniform. We are all aware that India is a country that lives in several time periods at the same time. The family in Mumbai, and the family in a village in Haryana or Chhattisgarh are all living in different periods, and whatever the law of the land cannot be subjected to the same moral and societal standards.

For those who champion either capitalism or socialism, let it serve as a reminder of the Tofflers’ warning that both would eventually collapse as being the offsprings of the industrial revolution and that the forecasts of the economists should not be accepted naively. So, while globalisation remains a reality and the technological and societal changes come along with it, let us be not very sure that its triumph is a given.

Before I conclude…

It would be in the interest of the general well-being of the government and for the cause of healthy debate, if ministers, especially kept a check on their language. Whether it is the question of taking pot shots at the media or their political rivals, the ministers can use decent language and still make their point. So, whether it is a former chief or an upper caste Bhumihar from Bihar, lessons in humility and decency are in order for them. The sooner it happens the better it would be for the health of the nation.


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Coming to terms with the future


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