Tuesday, June 16, 2015

From Consumers to Producers - The Indian Story - Part 1

I call myself a successful digital immigrant. Marc Prensky defined Digital Natives as the ones who have been born with digital technology, digital devices, for whom the digital devices is not a new phenomenon, today's young population. Digital Immigrants are those who saw digital technology developing and evolving and adapted to the digital world - people like me!

I have been very lucky to have been not only a witness, but a participant in the evolution of the digital age. In this series, I am going to share the story(s) of how several technologies evolved over the last 35 years in India and across the world, slowly but surely turning us, passive consumers of media content, into active producers. How technology - both hardware and software, and skill-sets developed over the years, especially in India, and how it has affected the way we communicate, and hence the way we live and go about our lives.

My students (at least the one's who have attended my New Media lectures) might find it repetitive, and some content will indeed be repeated from my earlier posts. Also, the posts in this series may appear to have loose ends, which I will tie up in the last post of the series. So here goes....

From Consumers to Producers - The Indian Story - Part 1


I first touched a computer when I was 28 years old. I was extremely scared, thinking I might break something, or something might just explode! Please bear with me, but I had seen a computer only in science fiction and James Bond films. It was a 286 MHz machine. I am unaware of its configuration, but I used it as a word processor with only 'Wordstar' as the software.

I bought my first computer in 1992 for Rs.35000/-. Many will be surprised by the configuration. It had a 386(40386)  processor, meaning it had a processing power of 386 MHz, much lesser than many mobile phones available today (My cell phone has a processor of 1.8 GHz!). The computer had a whopping 120MB (Yes, no typo here. Its MB and not GB) and 4 MB of RAM! It was the best PC in the neighbourhood. If you have seen the film 'Matrix', the screen was identical - black, with green characters. There was no mouse. To start Windows, I had to boot up the computer, and type 'Win' at eh C:\> prompt.

In 1995, I upgraded by PC to a 486 with 16 MB RAM and a 1.2 GB Hard disk, and a white screen instead of a green one. I thought it could not get better than that. How wrong I was! Within months of upgrading my PC, there came a 586 Mhz machine. I went ahead and took a crash course in assembling computers and started upgrading my own PCs. I remember making my first video using a PC with a 533 MHz processor and 512 MB RAM.

The rest is history, folks. Computers kept getting faster and cheaper. Almost everyone I know has a computer now. The speeds at which these computers work are mind boggling. My mobile now has a processor about 3 times faster than my first PC. I am not going into any more technical details. They are just too many.

But what is the significance of this? Today, instead of only a few people, anyone can do word processing. Anyone can print a document at home, write a book and also do the layout, send an email or a fax, watch a movie or even make a movie at home. What was once the privilege of very few with very deep pockets, is within the reach of the common man.

But more about that in the next post.

An end note: I am proud of the fact that my father was one the first people in this country to use a computer. He managed the EDP (Electronic Data Processing) centre in LIC, where he used to work, waaay back in 1969! The one that he used was HUGE, with data tapes and data cards, cards with holes in them to detect data from the tapes. Here's a pic of one:

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