Its yesterday once more

Written by Jyoti Verma | Updated: Sep 30 2007, 06:32am hrs
Vinay Kanwal Oberoi has a task to do this summer. After the current semester at the Philadelphia University gets over, he has to do some treasure hunting back home. No assignment, neither a great fortune to be traced, yet the chase is of the magnitude of a treasure hunt, quips the 25 year old. One understands. After all, hunting for extinct gramophone needles is no fun. If I accomplish the mission, the needles would be a gift to my grandfather. He has been looking for it all over since the one his recorder had, gave way, says the geek busy googling the places in Delhi where he could find the treasure.

A joke for many his age, for Oberoi searching Mumbais Chor Bazaar or Delhis Meena Bazaar to trace the little pin makes sense. Frankly, he doesnt even hate the machine. The logic he has is not based on the respect his grandfather has for the outstanding audio quality the gramophone once used to deliver, but on the interest value it generates. Today, its no fun to flaunt an iPod to your friends. Everyone has it. Whats interesting is to talk about how a gramophone works. While an iPod has a utility advantage, making one carry music anywhere, the gramophone is an awe-inspiring showpiece to get a high on, he reasons.

So, here is a similarity between Oberoi and his grandfather. They both just love the gramophone! And the stereo players and Walkmans that followed. Whether it is the attraction for its antique value or nostalgia, some gadgets just fail to die. Ask Sangeeta Shah for more. A homemaker, Shah is rejoicing over the deal she managed from her fathers defunct landline phone set recently. Using the dial system phone, she impressed her 10-year-old child the way she impressed her mother when she used it first. I still remember my daughter trying her luck with the old-dial phone we grew up with. Despite studying it for an hour, it was hard for her to crack the code to make it work. Dialling the phone made me look smart in front of a kid who at any given time usually knows more than me about technology. I think thats the benefit of gadgets coming in and fading out. At least a gadget remains exclusive to a generation, she says.

There is no doubt that people swiftly take to faster and sleeker technology. What remains though is their bond with them. There are some gadgets you feel a bond with, while there are some you dont even look at. Remember the Sony Walkman your father gifted you on your 21st birthday Now the same technology is available on your Sony Ericsson mobile handset, untouched, untried by you. A trial happened over the weekend with you trying games at your old PC but failed as the floppy disc drive packed up. Eventually, you had to agree with your child that the X-Box is superior to the retired machine.

Prasanto K Roy, president and chief editor at CyberMedia publications, advises one to live in the unplugged mode. In the digital age, its practical to change faster than the gadgets. The gadgets, products and technology simply evolve, leading us to better and more feature-packed machines. So here comes the concept of convergence, which will decide our future machines, he says.

Roy says this from personal experiences; his recent being the death of the PDA or the Palmtop personal digital assistant. For over 10 years I went through four generations of PDA: from Palm Pilot to the all-colour Palm TX, which could download mail briskly over Wi-Fi. I would carry both PDA and phone, checking mail on the PDA through Wi-Fi or via my cellphone over Bluetooth and GPRS. Today, my Nokia E50 smartphone, at half the size and weight, can do almost all of what the Palm could, apart from being a phone that receives instant push-email over the BlackBerry service. The PDA, on its own, died, he says.

Many agree that digital consumer electronic devices have very short lifespans compared to their analogue predecessors. Today, one even sees a Walkman losing to the iPod due to its size, sleekness, interactivity and ease of use. With lack of a guarantee in the digital age, compelling machines like cassette players and Walkmans to die, the next victim could be the much-talked-about Apple iPod. Imagine coming across a device thinner than the iPod. It can shoot HD quality video and 20 megapixel still images, has practically infinite storage space and is so intuitive that even grandma can use it without reading the manual. Would you not consider ditching your iPod then I think thats the future a single all-in-one device that keeps one connected as well as entertained and does everything except picking up children from school, says Amit Agarwal, eminent tech blogger.

Besides the usual upgrades in the convergence-oriented world, every once in a while, a quantum change happens, a tectonic shift occurs causing a discontinuity in the evolution. This sort of change is disruptive, killing some existing technology or product category. Like, the digital camera was disruptive; it meant the decline and death of film. The mobile phone is another example of a disruptive technology. Besides, there are other social reasons that make one skip a technology. A case in point is the landline, says Roy. India today has 200 million mobiles and 40 million landlines. Mobiles are growing explosively, while the landlines are not. Landlines will continue where there is a huge wired legacy infrastructure, laid over a 100 years, he explains. But in a developing nation like India, it doesnt make sense to lay expensive cabling. Wireless technology is much faster and cheaper to deploy. Hence, we see the explosion of mobility, making many Indians call on a mobile phone instead of a landline. Similarly, pagers remain popular for certain applications and in some countries, such as the United States, which is still behind Europe and Asia in mobile phone use feels Roy.

Podcaster Abhishek Mhatre believes the life of a gadget or technology also depends on the time it is launched. A highly futuristic gadget may even fail miserably if there is no immediate need or awareness of it. He has an example. The mobile phone, Iridium backed by Motorola (remember the tag line Now, Geography is History). Its concept was to empower one call from anywhere (even from Mount Everest) in the world. The product failed miserably as it lacked utility then. In 1992, when the gadget was launched, the concept of a cell phone itself was so magical that nobody could place the handset well, he makes his point.

For music composer Jawahar Wattal, the idea of technologies dying out is too urbane and inspired by global developments. Thanks to the varied strata of Indian society, technologies fail to fade away fast. Keeping aside the classy gramophones, which always remained with the whos who, the machines that came in between, like the cassette recorder or a film camera, are sold heavily in the villages today. And thats where you may even find your thrown away black-and-white TV, he says.

Wattal thinks acceptance and rejection of a gadget/technology depends on several other factors: the ease it lends to a user, awareness one has about it, price, appeal and brand value. The first three aspects are certain with every Indian, while the rest primarily go to the haves. Thats the reason one finds rural people comfortable with a cassette player. They know how to operate it. For them an iPod or a Walkman would resemble a UFO, he says.

We buy the idea, but what does one do about nostalgia For Tom Standage, business editor with The Economist, the personal problem is not handing-down but letting go. He has Leica film and Rolleiflex cameras languishing in his study in an old camera bag. Though I dont miss the hassle of using film or the stink of the chemicals, I am somehow reluctant to part with the cameras. Even the old VCR sits there in case we ever want to watch an old VHS tape but that is something that simply never happens. The cameras might have some appeal as antiques in the future, but Im sure the VCR will not, he says.

What makes him happy is his not-so-modernised telescope. He has an old-fashioned telescope with a tripod, which doesnt plug into his computer at all. With no upgrades getting in here, one feels, thats the reason the telescope fails to die.