Consumer Electronics and Human Relations


Consumer Electronics and Human Relations, Alexander Graham Bell, K S Chalam, Bell Company. When Alexander Graham Bell spoke to his assistant Thomas Watson on March 10, 1876 on phone, the world rejoiced that it would usher in fresh human relations across the globe.

When Alexander Graham Bell spoke to his assistant Thomas Watson on March 10, 1876 on phone, the world rejoiced that it would usher in fresh human relations across the globe. Twenty one years later in 1897 Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian, showcased the Radio with the help of his butler Magnani. The humankind must have celebrated both the occasions as the beginning of a new era of connecting people in different geographical distances. Marconi was given the Nobel in Physics for 1909 when he was working in the UK. A new branch of Engineering, Electronics within Electrical Engineering and in some places within Physics (as in Andhra University) became evident as an independent subject by 1960s. The Institutes of Technology with the support of corporations like the Bell Company have used the electronic circuit to manufacture different products for everyday use. This has revolutionised the Communication, Information technologies and later got entangled with computer to become an independent domain by itself.

The commercialisation of scientific innovations and designing of products have enabled both the innovators and the business corporations to get mutually benefitted. The competition between the two systems of government, the USSR and the USA during the cold war period seemed to have developed two different structures of production. In the USSR, innovations were confined to Defence and public sector, appeared to have limited the unrestricted use of technology. The USA and its allies expanded the market beyond their boundaries pumping in additional resources into the R&D. Some scholars might argue that it has influenced the composition of capital, but it has not resulted in the collapse of the system. In fact, it has released effective consumers from the ‘proletariat’ into the market. It needs to be debated to what extent traditional institutions like family, class, educational institutions, judiciary, faith etc., (superstructure) were affected by this trend. We are deliberating here about the influence of the consumer electronic goods on the human relations.

There seem to be a simultaneous transformation of electronics meeting the growing needs of people with the increase in income and also expanding industrial goods. Some of the transformative models of capitalist development some argue, as against the few or none in the opposite camp enabled the earner to become an effective consumer enlarging his utility function. The freedom to choose has helped him/her to attain contentment. The evolution of electronics chip has further facilitated the use of embedded software even in ordinary mechanical devices like washing machines, mixers etc. In fact, these gadgets have liberated women more than the reformers and gifted them with more leisure and less drudgery in the household. Many have expected gender justice with this development, but it became elusive when the surplus labour was squeezed into capitalist expansion.

Technocrats with the support of corporations have devised methods of product differentiation and brought in multiple combinations of functions in the electronic gadgets. Computer, TV, Mobile, Camera and several other permutations and combinations with the help of satellite communications have been introduced and made user-friendly with Internet. The manufacturing TNCs (trans-national corporations) of the electronic products have influenced the psyche of the consumer in such a way that a new term “nomophobia” (no-mobile-phone phobia) is identified by scholars. The emergence of social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc., are being used for marketing purposes as 76 per cent of ordinary people and 95 per cent of community organisers are using them. The marketing executives and their research output feed the industry with designs and desires that are kept under control with several strategies including sponsoring programmes, infotainment, research, political parties etc. In fact, it is a multidisciplinary programme in the academic world now, may be a post-modern academic offshoot.

The positive impact of science on society advocated by Bertrand Russell and several positivist thinkers seem to have not considered the consequences of commercial electronics. May be it is the duty of the state to regulate. But, the impact of the consumer electronics on the socio-economic outcome is awful. The NSS has found that the per capita expenditure on telephones increased by 28 per cent and TV by 141 per cent between 2004-5 to 2009-10. Out of the average income of Rs 1,000 per year through NREGA in the rural areas, major chunk is spent on mobiles, alcohol, entertainment and other sundry expenditure. It is also noted that women spend three hours more on calls, four times larger on instant messages than men, every month in India. We have 90.5 crore mobile users next to China and elbowing out America to third position. The TRAI has indicated that the gross revenue from the mobile operators amount to Rs 1, 95, 442 crore. TRAI report for 2011 mentioned that the revenue of TV industry was Rs 32, 000 crore. FM Radio is also generating around half of that amount. The average time spent on social media is estimated to be around 3 hours and on TV varies from 7 hours to…

The death of SunandaTharoor is now attributed (by some) to Twitter, a social network, appears to be like the Prince Diana demise. It is a very rare sight now to see young people and even daily wagers using both the hands pleasingly to walk in public, as one hand is spared to hold the mobile. Young couple chat with each other on smart phone or use net to settle scores. They don’t trust elders who are busy with their TV. The family members do not have time to entertain visitors and even attend to regular chores since everything can be ordered on net. The values disseminated by most of the soaps stereotyping the traditional middle class/caste Sas-Bahu or fundamentalist beliefs are reflected in social or family tensions. They are in a way complimenting the dubious bygone values and alienate the individual from the collective, in pursuit of pleasure. A new App “Sex with Glass” is doing the rounds. The impact of internalisation of these standards could be perceived to breaking families, old-age homes, suicides, cybercrime and what is called the advent of post-modern family. Here, the siblings need not contribute to the family income and free to choose a partner based on ‘love’ and not necessarily grounded on emotional bonds. They are at liberty to part ways. It is very difficult to comment on this trend as some of the values are embedded with corporate capitalism and several activists have written so much on this. But, it seems to be a drift towards deconstruction of the family that has evolved over a period of time through different modes of social existence. Is it to free the individual to mature as a customer to patronise the charms of the free market?

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