SK Babu

@babulous

Being the change instead of fighting it

Old is gold, but shouldn’t it be gone?

Seeing the news about Yahoo being acquired by Verizon, I felt a slight sense of panic. Yahoo was my first email ID and it was worrying to see it in danger of disappearing. The problem is every thing is changing so fast, and it feels like every morning I am entering a new world. A lot of what I knew is becoming useless. Take shopping. Once upon a time, I knew where to get the best electronic deals in town, my wife knew the best places for clothes, another friend the best place for books, and so on. Now all our knowledge is useless. Like everyone else, I do most of my shopping online except for groceries. And then I heard Amazon has just bought over the WholeFoods supermarket chain. I clicked the tab shut. Life has become a rollercoaster of change, and I hate rollercoasters as they make me want to throw up.

It wasn’t always like this. India was late to the internet, and so backward in its pre-internet years, that you had to wait for years just to get a landline connection. Even after getting the phone, if you wanted to make a long distance call, you had book a thing called a ‘trunk call’ with the telephone exchange. They would call you back when they got a line clear and connect you up to the person you were calling. Over and above, it was frightfully expensive so we tended to keep calls short. In those days, snail mail used to be the preferred mode of communication with a letter taking up to a week to travel from my boarding school to my home some 1000 km away. Looking back, I see the positive side. There was absolutely no stress of waiting for that ping. A reply would take at least a couple of weeks. So it was a case of ‘send it and forget it.’

Yahoo started the change for me. I recall signing up for an email ID at the only Internet cafe in my city and enjoying the thrill of almost instantaneous communication. Once I moved out from home, staying in touch with my folks back home became an issue as phone calls were expensive. Text-chat apps were already around but my techphobic parents didn’t have the patience to figure out typing. Yahoo did try a video chat feature in Yahoo Messenger. However their video chat required too many clicks to get going which was beyond my parent’s abilities. So I switched to MSN messenger, and later onto Skype. Meanwhile Google entered the email business with a sensational 1GB of free storage space as compared to Yahoo’s piddly 4MB. In response, Yahoo upped theirs to 250MB, but Gmail had already raced ahead, and Yahoo never did catch up.

Since those days, things have changed a lot. Messaging has taken over from email. I still have my Yahoo email but I rarely use it. My Gmail is active, but the emails are mostly commercial, work-related, finance-related, and oddly enough emails from social media providers who panic if you don’t use them for too long. In India, WhatsApp is the big guy in messaging, and it’s not just text messages anymore. My brother called me from somewhere in Europe this morning using WhatsApp. His 54 minute voice call was perfectly clear, with no call drops, while the total data used was just 10.7MB. Once upon a time, that call would have cost a bomb.

However WhatsApp too has issues, with autocorrected bloopers being my bugbear. Once sent, you are stuck with sending a second corrective message. WhatsApp is planning to give a 5 minute recall window like Gmail, but I would prefer an ‘edit sent messages’ feature like Telegram, which allows you to almost magically correct messages that you have already sent. In fact, I’d prefer to switch lock, stock and barrel to Telegram, but getting the rest of India to follow is impossible. Because people dislike change, and I who hate rollercoasters, can relate to that.

The problem is we don’t have an option of avoiding change. To survive in the world of tomorrow, we can’t just tolerate change, or even limit ourselves to accepting it. We have to embrace it and ourselves become messengers of change. I know it’s hard to change but it’s possible from my experiences.

Let’s take something as basic as food, for instance.

I grew up in a Christian missionary boarding school, and was a pure non-vegetarian right through my childhood. I started eating vegetables only after getting married to a pure vegetarian. These days, I can go weeks without any meat, and not really miss it. An even stranger case is sugar. I have a sweet tooth, and used to binge on the stuff. But over the last few years, I have becomes suspicious of the white poison. The turning point was when I heard how, 50 years ago, the results of a pivotal study that proved sugar was more dangerous than fat, was unscrupulously reversed by scientists at Harvard. That crucial falsehood resulted in sugar becoming ingrained into human diet. So I switched to unrefined cane sugar. After a period of avoiding sugar, my tongue regained its sensitivity. I now find anything with sugar tastes bitter and artificial. Whereas sugar, like in fruits, tastes sweet in a natural way. And it’s not just me. I have been trying to push my thoughts without being pushy, and once in a while I get lucky. Like when my teenager who loves her chocolates tells me she is beginning to detect and detest the sugary stuff. If we can change such basic food habits, then I see why no reason we can’t accept change in all facets of our lives.

Looking back, I think the reason I was successful was because I went whole hog into it. The level of sugar in my sugar bottle hasn’t changed in years. I also stopped all sugary sweets, and all packed food that contains even traces of sugar. To compensate for the loss of sweetness in my life, I went off on a fruit eating extravaganza picking up every kind of fruit I could find. India has a mindboggling range of tropical fruit. It’s still mango season now, and I must have tried most of the many varieties in the market, and quite a few homegrown breeds that you won’t find on supermarket shelves. And that’s just one of the dozens of fruits we have been experimenting with. Makes me sort of understand why Steve Jobs once became a fruitarian.

Climate change is another big worry. The way things are going, it looks like it’s going to be permanent. If so, change is going to flood us in many waves. That could be overwhelming, unless, of course, we are ready to jump in and swim. So I decided to take the first step, by cutting down on my use of fossil fuels. Electric cars haven’t really arrived in India, and in any case, a Tesla would be out of my reach. But electric scooters are available. They only have a top speed of around 30km/hr which I can live with, but their 50km range at full charge isn’t really practical. Also, there was only one dealer in my city and he was at the other end of the town. But I went for it anyway. Cost-wise, it hasn’t been a big saving. The scooter costs only around ₹30000 ($465) but you have to replace the battery after 18 months and that costs around ₹11000 ($170). Still, I get a warm buzz out of knowing that I have run over 20000km on my scooter, which is that much less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. Success begets success, and last month, I installed a solar panel on my roof which cuts down on my use of power from the grid.

Now if only I could figure out how to get India to switch to Telegram.

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