RACY CASES-61 The Death of Privacy

V Pattabhi Ram

Every one in her group had a mobile.  Why, the maid who worked in her home too carried one.  So did the milkman and the auto-driver. She too wanted to have one.  But her dad would have none of it.

“You are always either in the classroom or at the client’s place or with a friend.  In the first case you don’t need a mobile; in the second case the client has a landline and in the last instance you can borrow your friend’s mobile if push comes to shove” he had argued.  “But dad, everyone carries one” she had pleaded.  “Then everyone is wrong” he closed out.  It was impossible to win an argument with Wafer’s dad.

It was not that her dad was stingy. It was just that he had his own sense of what constituted a necessity and what was a luxury. That weekend, as the gang met over at the coffee pub the talk centered on the ubiquitous mobile.

When the magnificent mobile had first hit the market in 1996 it had met with mixed reaction.  After all, the much touted pager had just then made a quick entry and an equally quick exit from the market.  Wafers’ dad had told her of the kind of rage that the pager once was. People wore it on their belt as though it was a badge of honor! But the product had a very short shelf life and died a silent death.

He had a story to tell about the mobile as well.  When the mobile was launched, you had to pay when you made a call and also when you received a call.  The rates were stiff.  It was Rs 16 per minute for the outgoing call and Rs 8 per minute for the incoming call.  Worse still, the mobile company used to call up and check whether the bills were received.  The subscriber was obviously incensed.  For, he would have to pay for that incoming call as well!

“Why do you want a mobile,” asked China. Wafers was stumped.  For a moment she wanted to ask “Why not?” Instead she said, “For one, it’s the in-thing.  For another, I want to stay connected.”  China smiled.  His dalliance with the mobile had left him a shade sour.  He would get calls at all times of the day.  Anyone and everyone would call him on the mobile and not on the landline. It was as though the landline had become a museum piece.  Worse still, messages would come pouring in at odd times of the day.   And if he forgot to delete them someone could easily peek into it.  You see it didn’t need a password.

China had tried to explain that to Wafers but she would have none of it.

He also told her about the other issues.  Like, when the mobile rang it wasn’t always an emergency call.  Yet China would have to rush to pick the call and then regret it.  Worse still, a “missed call” got recorded and if he didn’t return the call, the caller would be offended.  How wonderful it was with the landline.  You could always not return a call saying you didn’t know that the caller had called. It wasn’t mandatory to fix a caller id with the landline.  But the blessed mobile always came with an id. Phew.  The death of privacy, indeed.

Even as China was mulling over and explaining these, Wafers remarked, “You see I can also take photographs with my mobile.”  It almost got to China’s goat.  “Why do you want to do that, Wafers?” he asked.  “Simple.  So that I don’t have to carry a conventional camera to take snaps.  I can snap you up when you are hugging your coffee cup and hogging your pasta like you haven’t had food for ages.” China didn’t smile.  Wafers pushed forward by saying, “You see NDTV even carries pictures captured on mobile phones.  I can even become a roving photo journalist”.

The idea that the mobile could shoot a person without the other person knowing that he was being shot at appalled China. He remembered the DPS MMS case with alacrity.  Again it was a case of the death of privacy. He remembered the old saying, “Your liberty ends where my nose begins.”  He felt that Wafers’ dad was right.  She didn’t need a mobile.

“You see I can connect it to my laptop and download mails. And why even I can send and received mails via mobiles.”  For sure, Wafers wasn’t through. ”I can SMS my friends about my whereabouts and about adda plans”.  China wasn’t amused. “But who is interested in your whereabouts?” he asked, a shade irritated. Wafers wasn’t put down by it. “You see, I can also receive news reports.  Very soon movies will be screened on mobiles and I don’t have to watch television.  Yup, I can get out of the idiot box.”

China almost blew the fuse. “Watching movie on the tiny screen can be a pain in the eye”, he said.  “Well, I understand that this was what people said when the television first entered the global market” remarked Wafers.  And she reminded China of what he had once told about Darryl Zaruch the head of 20th century Fox.  That Zaruch had pointed out, “Television will not last for more than 6 months.  People will get tired of watching a plywood box every night”.  And for effect she added, “Yet today, the television is the very epicenter of the convergence of education, communication, and entertainment.”

Wafers drove the final nail.  “You see China I can use the mobile in the class to SMS my doubts to the teacher handling the class.  And he can clarify my doubts for the class pronto”.

“So it’s the death of privacy for the teacher as well” winked China.  “Watching television, browsing the internet, messaging on the mobile in the weird lingo of the mobile mob you will lose your power at oral communication” he said with a touch of concern. Wafers wouldn’t give up.  “You see we belong to Generation Y.  The rules of the world have changed and we intend to play by the new rules.

And so the debate went on and on until the captain at the coffee pub said it was time to pull down the shutters for the day.  It was 11pm.  That was when China received a call on his mobile!


About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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