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A pandemic and the Google generation

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A common Indian... Interested in some finer details in life...

We are a Google generation. Google search engine is, of course, the first choice of refuge for any information that we need. Bust that is not the aspect I want to highlight today. Before the advent to search engines, searching for information used to be a task in itself. You had to find someone who would have some knowledge on the subject matter or if not, who could lead you to someone who does. You had to look for some published word in books, magazines, newspapers etc. Remember keeping a repository of daily newspapers or weekly / fortnightly / monthly magazines used to be a common hobby till a few decades. if not years, back. And still there was no surety that you will get the answers you are seeking to your satisfaction.

Google changed all this. All the information is now available at the click of a button. Google was not the first search engine to arrive on the internet stage, but it is definitely by far the most successful and, if I may say so, the best one. And this brings us to the aspect that I want to highlight today. Google has changed our perception of the flow of time. Have you ever noticed the line just below the search bar when Google displays the search results? It goes something like this – About xxx,xxx,xxx results (0.xx seconds). Millions of search results in less than a second. We don’t have to wait now. No need for those library memberships or the encyclopedias at home. No need to maintain acquaintances with knowledgeable and learned people. Everything is available on the fingertips, at the click of a button (or a touch on the screen) in less than a second. That’s Instant Gratification. That’s getting rewarded in a split-second. That’s the Google Generation.

With the all-pervasive presence of internet and Google around us, and our ever-increasing dependence on instant search results (Google search, Google Maps, Google Mail etc. – they all use this split-second search), our minds have probably become accustomed to this instant gratification. We don’t like any delays now. We don’t want to wait. No matter what the constraints be, our sub-conscious self always wants us to have instant gratification. Why wait when every problem can be solved in less than a second by Google?

There was a time a few decades ago when our parents and grandparents patiently waited for even some of the basic necessities of life, basic at least from today’s standpoint. It was hard-wired in their minds. We were a land rich in resources but still a land of scarcity. Right after independence, we had a perennial scarcity of food. Though that problem was solved with the green revolution, many other problems persisted – some natural and some man-made (or may be government policy made, the subject is controversial). But we were familiar with shortages and were ready to wait for our turn, willingly or otherwise. Some resourceful ones did manage to jump the queue, but they were only a minority. 3 years for a cooking gas cylinder connection, 5 years for a telephone connection, 10 years for a Bajaj scooter… the list was long.

Somewhere around the turn of the millennium we left that India of scarcity behind. The years long waits are a thing of the past now. Generation X, Gen Y, Millennials, Post-Millennials (wait, is there a cohort like that?) haven’t seen those bad days. An iPhone today is available in India simultaneously to the rest of the world. The present generations seek instant gratification. Will the pandemic force a paradigm shift for this Google generation?

Pandemics are probably nature’s worst but clearest mirrors to mankind. Pandemics are a great leveller – all are equal when a pandemic strikes. As the last pandemic hit the mankind about a century ago, there is no living memory today in the common conscience of what a pandemic really means and the destruction that it carries in its sway. As a society we had probably forgotten the lessons that were learnt so painfully. That was before the current pandemic his us. And hit us hard. The best of the systems proved inadequate. The healthcare infrastructure was humbled by the magnitude of the challenge. All the nations and societies tried to cope with whatever resources they had but nobody was prepared for the size and enormity of the problem that presented itself. Everyone blamed each other saying that all the systems collapsed. No, the systems didn’t collapse. They did whatever best they could, but they were grossly inadequate.

Nothing can highlight the problem more than the spectacle we all witnessed in the second wave of this pandemic. Most of us have lost a near and dear one. The pain is all pervasive. And the reason – shortage of oxygen. Something as basic as the oxygen that we breathe. Everyone will blame the powers-that-be (with their own interpretation of the people who wield those powers) but the fact remains that nobody could have been prepared for the huge oxygen demand that came suddenly. If we show some understanding to this basic constraint, we will probably get the answers that we have been seeking. The opportunists will always try to profiteer from the situation by creating a black-market for almost anything and they must be punished. But such opportunists remain the fringe and not the cause of the scarcity in the first place.

A similar impatience for instant gratification is playing out for vaccination. Nobody wants to look at the scope of the challenge at hand. Vaccinating a Billion plus people across the length and breadth of our large country after countering all the apprehensions and hesitancies and the malicious misinformation campaigns. There is no consideration to the constraints of manufacturing and supply chain logistics involved in this unprecedented vaccination drive. But we don’t want to wait for the vaccine. We want our vaccine today, within the hour, now, in a split-second. In a hypothetical world, a Billion vaccination doses can be produced and administered instantaneously. In the Google world, may be that’s possible. But in the real world it is impossible.

The Indian government launched the vaccination drive in January 2021 with a target to administer vaccine to 30 crore people in 2 phases over few months. Everyone was either happy that the vaccination has started or spreading rumours that the vaccine is unsafe and should not be taken. There was no third category. Vaccine shots were getting wasted in the first few weeks because people were unwilling to get vaccinated. Enter the second wave and everybody is crying foul. The fact is that nobody, and I repeat NOBODY could predict what happened in the second wave. But with the benefit of hindsight now we want our instant gratification, we want our vaccine now.

The jury is still out if the split-second patience span of the Google generation will become any longer after this pandemic.

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