Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Technology - A Pai - Sarukkai debate

In the olden days, Indian women on requiring making a curry paste would embark upon an arduous and time consuming process of grinding various food components. With the advent of mixers and grinders the same process can be done with relative ease, thus liberating the woman of the need to be subjected to such a task and leaves her with much more productive time. Possibly now the time she has saved from her curry paste making process is utilized in watching her favorite daily soaps. That the keenness of this new task is so much that she would like not to entertain or engage with her young child which she possibly would have while spending more time in the older task.
While the first part of the narrative would have been easily relatable, made much sense and sounded practical, the second would have required some thinking, popped some ‘is-it-so’ questions and maybe caused reflection. In fact the ‘curry paste’ scenario presented above is stitched from a debate between two stalwarts – T V Mohandas Pai and Sundar Sarukkai.
The Manipal Conclave held by Manipal Institute of Technology had for a debate, Mr Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education Services, the illustrious former Infosys mascot, and a well known TV personality who daftly handles TV anchors of the boisterous kinds. Opposing him was Sundar Sarukkai, Director of Manipal Centre of Philosophy and Humanities, a particle physics doctorate from Purdue University, an eminent philosopher and thinker of the country and author of several books.
Technology, its advantages were put forth by Mr Pai, armed with his statistics; who elucidated how advances in technology have removed drudgery of human life, how longevity (and average human height) has been enhanced, how travelling time has reduced and is reducing, how connectivity has eradicated starvation deaths in far flung regions and how life has become more easy going. However he noted that a few misgivings of technology have treaded along.
There was a man, who had been at the forefront of technology revolution of India, having an active public life taking on governments for wrong doing, indulging in opportunity and knowledge creation, engaging with masses on twitter, who drove home the point which we have all become conditioned with, that advent of technology has made our lives better and that being devoid of it is unimaginable.
Then the thinker spoke. Professor Sarukkai who began by telling that talking about ills and perils of technology at a technology institute was only ironical, craftily enlightened on aspects that on the first thought could sound alien but if pondered upon could help internalize the message. That technology commonly used today have been result of war efforts where millions have been killed (millions of women and children he emphasized as a case-in-point), that technology has led to disease proliferation like mad cow disease and that technology has decimated the human ability of deep focus.
The merit of the debate is certainly worth noting. The relevance of the arguments needs thinking. The debating point holds enormous value for all generations who are in throes of technology becoming integral part of life. Is it to be accepted in its present form? What should be done with newer technologies, how it should be done, and if at all something is to be done. For technologies affecting us cannot be denied, but being deeply conditioned with it could spell dire changes in the future.
Well, that was not the conclusion. A large part of learning experience from the Pai-Sarukkai debate was beyond the arguments. There were two gentlemen who disagreed in the most graceful manner possible. Humor was never lost. When Mr Pai pointed out that the microphone Dr Sarukkai was speaking into was a part of the technology advancement, the philosopher chose to denounce it further on. Walking the talk was exhibited right there in the most light-veined manner possible.
It is rare, in the new age debate culture as the television makes us believe, to be civil, to listen carefully, to be modest, and yet to stick on to ones views. One’s firmness of those views need not be expressed in a manner of shouting down, taking irrelevant detours, or rigidity to acknowledge genuine contradictions. The Pai-Sarukkai debate was a fine example of that.

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