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The landline generation

Born into a lower-middle class Indian family, my fascination with a double bed was no less than that a child of the 1990s had with cable TV. After the heavy wooden bed arrived in our house with the help of four thin labours, all of my family started sleeping on it. All 1980s children will realise that whatever used to come to any middle class house in those years were shared by all in the family — unlike today when all middle class boys and girls have their own phone, ear pods and laptop.

Privacy was next to nil in the 1980s. The children would definitely find the concept of privacy a crazy notion because they could not afford to have any form of entertainment alone. The TV, newspaper and magazines, all had to be shared. I also find that during previous times, our attention span was greater as we had no remote control and we were glued to a channel for a longer time.

From beds to Walkman, we were accustomed to share everything. I still remember that my landline phone had a small lock on it, whose keys were always with my father and outgoing calls were barred. Imagine the challenges that a middle-class Indian had to go through when the MTNL used to disconnect the phone due to non-payment of bills. By the way, along with a Maruti 800 car, the landline phone used to be considered a status symbol then. People used to get calls for the entire neighbourhood and then the concept of privacy was so low that we used to pass on private messages to our neighbours.

As time passed, there came the computers and the Internet which became an overnight sensation. However, connecting your PC to your landline was far more difficult than catching a Mumbai local. Browsing websites, chatting on Yahoo messenger and even mailing through Hotmail was just cool, and our parents used to take pride in telling everyone that he does not have any interest in studies but does all these useless things.

Now we don’t want WhatAapp or Facebook to use our data without our permission, but imagine the 50 paisa postcards on which people used to write marriage profiles and anyone could read them. At times, it was so embarrassing that our neighbours used to read our personal letters because the postman just dropped it at their house.

Renting out a VCR (video cassette recorder) was also common during that time and it never happened that anyone in the locality watches it alone. The gathering for films was so common that the host used to invite all people from the neighbourhood to watch movies at his home. In today’s time, we might have multiple Netflix accounts but the concept of “community viewing” is simply gone.

From trump cards to video game parlours, we used to go out and play with friends and foes. From floppies to cloud storage, we have come a long way but I still miss my childhood. I want to go back to that time, when the concept of privacy was only confined to our individual spaces and rest all was in public domain. I still miss that time, when all children used to collect money and buy a new ball to play cricket. Nowadays, children have their own sports equipment but they have nobody to play with.

A person from middle-class landline generation could be a complete dodo today but the value system that he or she was brought up on was unmatchable.

w.a.fahad@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 12:03:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-landline-generation/article34737864.ece

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