Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Terra Infirma

The inspiration for this blog...

She started rolling up her slightly long T-shirt till it reached her waist. She then bunched the folds into each hand, tugged at it, and tied it carefully into a knot. Next, she started rolling up her sleeves. When she reduced it to a fettucine strap, she clipped it with a clothespin. She turned to me.

I could see her navel resting inside the folds of her slight paunch jutting out under the pressure of her tights. "I want to goto college so that I can wear such dresses everyday," she declared.

My neighbour is all of eight years. "Didi, the US Aunty gave me a Gucci perfume on my birthday. It smells sooo good!" she gushed.

The sleepy suburb I grew up in in Mumbai does smell different now. As children we used to see mountains of garbage piled up near the backwaters of the bay. The evening air used to be spiced with that extra dash of rotting waste. More than five years ago, that area was cleaned up, part of the bay reclaimed, and there came a mall. Suddenly we had essentials like a Hypermarket,Skoda showrooms, and Gelato ice-creams (98% water!).

Talking of flavored water, I have fond memories of having pepsi-cola, coloured and flavoured ice in thin and long cylindrical plastic packets, on our way back from school. Each one cost fifty paise. My little eight-year-old friend goes with her friends to McDonalds to celebrate the last day of the school year. She told me that her friend threw a birthday bash in a salon at the mall where all the little party troopers got a 'make-over'.

The make-over is happening, and is happening really fast.

She has her own make-up kit complete with fuschia pink lipstick and 'Red terra' nailpolish which goes well with dusky skin. She knows the difference between parmesan and paneer. She also knows how much the Paneer El Rancho pizza costs in Pizza Hut. She has an account in Orkut, Facebook, and My Space. She loves to Twitter.

Murdoch called the likes of my orkut-loving friend a 'digital native' -- someone who grew up immersed in technology. I would call her a 'digicon native' -- someone who grew up immersed in technology as well as consumerism. She has defined herself in her 'profile' on her Orkut homepage. She deals in drop-down traits and trades superlative testimonials. She routinely messages complete strangers and ranks friends by the number of messages they have accumulated. Her routine also includes weekends dotted with trips to the mall that include incurring a bill. Labels have become signposts and price-tags define aspirations. She can think in SMS-ese.

Being a net-nanny is tough, and being one for a digicon native is doubly so. This is because the parent and the teacher fall into the opposite category - a digicon immigrant. So, they are challenged not only with the complexities of the internet and a consumeristic culture ,but also the child's understanding and exposure, which doesn't mirror their own.

Keeping abreast with technology seems to be the most obvious and simplest step to take. For many it is not so. From thinking of computers as a high-brow scientist's headache to understanding that Facebook is not something you can buy in the local bookstore is a giant leap in evolution.

Negotiating this divide sometimes leads to arbitrary steps -- the parent or teacher acts without complete understanding of what the step may result in. 'What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy' is not an essay by a gaming-addict but a book by James Paul Gee, a well known professor of education.

The synopsis says -- 'Gee is interested in the cognitive development that can occur when someone is trying to escape a maze, find a hidden treasure and, even, blasting away an enemy with a high powered rifle.( The book) takes up a new electronic method of education and shows the positive upside it has for learning.'

When I mentioned this to the mother of a seven-year old, she said, "I don't care if gaming is going to teach him to handle crisis situations faster or develop his reflexes. I don't like him playing games. I think he should read instead." As there are no standard answers, everyone is treading on uncertain ground creating their own formulas.

The digicon culture can take a frightening turn too. The kidnapping and murder of Adnan Patrawala, a few years ago, is a case in point. The sixteen-year-old Adnan was driving a Skoda. The captors wanted two crores for his release. The teenagers who were a part of his kidnapping were studying in a school in the same locality I grew up in, the same locality where the eight-year-old loves Gucci. Adnan befriended his captors through Orkut.

The eight-year-old has been banned from using Orkut. She didn't admit to having an account, but after repeated threats gave in and showed her account to her mother. Her mother confided in me with wide, frightened eyes that Orkut is run by Al Qaeda.

Previously published in a personal blog. Now it has found its rightful place :)

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