Twenty years ago, my curiosity led me one evening into the cyber’s ‘web’ – catalysed by every mouse-click. Reminded of Mary Howitt’s poem “The Spider and the Fly,” yet wide-eyed and eager, I let my mouse take me by the forefinger into the cyber-parlour.
Traipsing from link to link – from strange verse to exotic art – I flitted on till I landed on a page of tips on play-acting. My life had hovered only around books and students and here I was, suddenly, in thrall of the visions of a virtual world. But that’s not all. In the midst of my highly enlightening sojourn in the virtual world, I opened my mail to delete the spam that gathers like garbage. All of a sudden, the messenger icon turned itself on. ‘Prrring!’ rang the speaker on my table.
A blue balloon blossomed on to the monitor screen announcing – “Nalini says, ‘hello uncle’!” Smiling happily to myself, I was about to guide the cursor to it when another blurb boomed – “Mark says ‘greetings from canada’!” (Young people find capital letters for proper nouns superfluous on the Internet).
Nalini, my niece, all of 20 years, just graduated, was there – across the oceans and the continents – venturing into Venezuelan ghettos on an internship programme. Mark Nirmal, a particularly fond nephew, was having a ball experimenting with banking and finance in Canada.
Here I was, in a third time zone – at one vertex of a virtual triangle that crisscrossed the globe – a doting uncle frantically typing out questions to each one and receiving answers @ lightning speed. I had gathered some keyboard expertise on a ramshackle Remington at age 10 – that was long years ago. Now, I rehashed it at 40 wpm in order to keep up with the whiz kids and their mystic abbrevns in ans to my salvo of qns.
Within an hour that evening, I had saved 14 unrelated bits of knowledge for future use in my classroom. I had listened to 11th century Gaelic music, I had read The Parliament of Fowls by Chaucer, and, the high point of the evening – I had chatted (isn’t that the word they use for typed communication on the Net?) with a nephew and a niece at two different points on the other side of the great orb.
It had been an adventure inside an ethereal goldmine – the very treasure house that so many young people seem to love so much. But then, alas, many of them spend copious amounts of time chatting with their local friends when they can do the same job for less money in less time on a local phone line. Some hunt for the jaundiced journalism of the gutters that haunts the www, in preference to foraging with stimulated curiosity through the world’s libraries. They tickle keyboards at 10 wpm because they haven’t been taught to type!
As I write, a strange apprehension nags my mind: Will garbage from the goldmine be the only prospect that so many young people will seek out in the 21st century?