Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Have we made this world a boring place?

The world was a mysterious place to me when I was a kid.  It was, after all, the prehistoric era--no television, no phones, and--most of all--no internet.

Those days, even a place that was a hundred kilometers away was a mystery.  America was somewhere out there.  And in that somewhere was my father's friend, who was a professor in a place called Pullman.

Once, he sent as gifts two sets of pencils.  One set had my name printed on each pencil, and the other set of pencils had my brother's name.  My brother and I thought it was the greatest gift ever.  The irony was that those pencils did not write well on the paper that we had in India, and we practically never used them.  But, we cherished them nonetheless.

The Pullman professor then topped that with a National Geographic gift subscription.  Glossy like I had never seen before.  Large sized maps.  Strange names of countries and peoples.  Stranger were the animals and birds.  And, hello, America was sending spacecrafts called Viking?
Against that kind of a backdrop from my much, much, younger days, there seems to be very little that is a mystery anymore.

Back then, we had to go different places in order to taste different foods.  Because, we did not know how to make rasgulla or the local market did not carry the ingredients or both.  It is a different world now.  We seem to get everything everywhere.  Even worse, increasingly every place looks and feels and sounds similar to every other place.  Commenting on the New Yorker's cover, the artist notes:
“I used to have to go to Rue des Rosiers to get a bagel—now you can get one anywhere in Paris,” says Charles Berberian, the Parisian cartoonist who painted this week’s cover, “Out and About.” Berberian’s image shows a couple at a café terrace in Brooklyn—or is it Paris?
The small town here in Oregon where my college campus is located has a bagel shop. Everything made right there.  And tastes pretty darn good too.  It's name?  "New York Bagel and Bistro."  There you have it--the confluence of NY and the French all in one shop name here in small town Oregon.
“New York has infiltrated Paris, and vice versa,” Berberian says. “The ambience in the street, the way people dress. The stores are the same now in Brooklyn and in my neighborhood, the 10th arrondissement. Ideas, trends are communicated instantly. Remember when you used to send packages by FedEx and had to wait two or three days?”
Everything is everywhere. And if not there at that very moment, can be had within a matter of hours.  Affluence has made life a tad boring.  Of course, I will take this affluence any day over the prehistoric era when ignorance was not bliss by any means ;)


Ramesh said...

Your last sentence sums it up all.

By the way, I thought you were praising the virtues of boredom a few posts back ???

Sriram Khé said...

Boredom every once in a while, yes.
Boredom as a choice of sorts, as opposed to being condemned to boredom.
More than anything else, I would like people to think through the issues ... "I don't understand why more people aren't engaged in discussing the changes."

Anne in Salem said...

Shocking! "Very little that is a mystery anymore." Impossible! While the world is getting smaller, and we can eat bagels and "authentic" ethnic cuisine in any small burg, and we can buy handmade goods from tiny villages in Africa on the internet from our sofas, there is always more to learn. We cannot see the spectacular and unique flora and fauna of a jungle from our sofas. We cannot wonder at elephants or cattle walking through towns - or learn why it is not only tolerated but celebrated - from the internet. We cannot learn how the chefs and artisans make those wonderful foods and goods authentically or why the same dish tastes different in different villages unless we go to the source. So much to learn, so many questions to ask, so many mysteries to solve. Always more to learn!

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, all those examples are what I am referring to as how the world has becoming less mysterious, Anne. I am not referring to the mysteries associated with knowing and learning. Actually, even there, we have had some interesting essays and books: "The end of science" ... "The end of history" ... while those are debatable ideas (and the intellectual world has had quite some debate on those) there is that feeling of less of a mystery ... A few years ago, when the string-theory physicist, Brian Greene, talked on campus, I asked him about the end of science stuff. He seemed to agree quite a bit there, and he said the real mystery that science has no clue about is consciousness.
Anyway, my point about the less mysterious was along those lines.