Any takers for 50 minutes of “cheers” on day 50 with 50 people? Join up, if you yet have the spirit (courtesy local shop or home delivery) and have by now, become tech-savvy enough to click into Zoom. It will at least take your mind off BJP, of which the great Indian middle-class is now truly tired. Before a FIR is filed —for sedition, no less — let me explicitly clarify that one is referring to burtan, jhadoo and pocha.
The lockdown held promise of being like an unexpected holiday from school, but tech spoiled the party by enabling work-from-home (WFH). The electronic leash had its other end firmly ensconced in the boss’ hand. Of course, one learned quickly enough that the camera could be turned off and sound muted during a video conference, enabling tea-breaks and calls to friends (provided one was not drafted to join the family BJP team). Meanwhile, the evening and weekend calendar got filled with appointments for Zoom calls (now as generic as Xerox is for photocopying) with friends and family, between hours of streamed video. Fifty days of lockdown have set a new routine: WFH, Zoom calls, Netflix/ Prime and BJP. Dining out, movie shows, air travel and parties are, unfortunately, out.
Also read: Shakespeare in the time of pandemic
Technology provided solutions for the lockdown, making work and socialising possible, even if only virtually. Tech also eased the pains caused by BJP: vacuum-cleaner sales are going through the roof, while demand for washing machines and dish-washers are zooming as much as Zoom downloads. It is technology, again, that will come up with the answers for Covid. Even as the world waits for researchers to come up with a cure, tech tonics like vaccines are in the pipe-line. Other “tonics” from technology may put our lives back on the rails, or possibly take us into new and interesting directions.
Today’s dress code includes a face mask and, often, gloves. The new behaviour norm precludes hugs and handshakes. Both could well be only temporary. Tech may integrate the first into new high-tech couture which is functionally like the PPE (personal protective equipment, worn now by front-line Covid warriors), but designed to be less bulky, more like normal clothing, aesthetically pleasing and virus-impermeable. This may bring back hugs and handshakes (but, sorry, not kissing). More importantly — after all, we are instinctively social animals — it can safely bring back crowding. Movie theatres, pubs and restaurants, sports events, airports and railway stations: all will be safe to visit. Not only can one return to offices and class-rooms, but physical distancing will no longer be necessary (as a vital corollary, gossip sessions around the water cooler can resume). For the romantically inclined, you can once again whisper sweet nothings into your partner’s ear — in happy contrast to being unable to do so from a two-metre distance!
If somehow one should yet be laid low by the dreaded virus, tech would have devised a cure. In the slightly more distant future, should the standard cure not work and the lungs are affected, no need of a ventilator: the lung will be replaced by implanting an appropriate electronic-mechanical one. The same for any other organ that is affected. Sci-fi? Not really. Just let your imagination move on from knee replacements and cochlear ear implants.
Despite the protective clothing, everyone entering any office or public space will walk through a tester. New technologies — using biological and genetic science, electronics and artificial intelligence — will check for any sign of disease, based on your body temperature, pulse and other parameters (all on a non-contact basis). Such measurements may well be done by a personal wearable device (or a permanent implant) which transmits the data to the building security as you pass the door. The latest technology of laser vibrometry at the entry can establish your identity through your heart-beat. It is now proven that this is unique to each person — like DNA — and new laser technology enables super accurate measurement of heartbeat-induced vibrations in your clothing to determine your distinctive “heart-print”. So, you can dispense with that ID tag!
Take heart, then: the tech tonic will transform quite a few things, but may also enable you to return to the many pleasures of pre-Covid life. On day 50, cheers to a happy future!
(Kiran Karnik tried for 40 years that a jack-of-all-trades MBA could help him succeed in anything. He failed, and took up writing. His last book was eVolution: Decoding India’s Disruptive Tech Story (Rupa, 2018))