The Financial Express

Learning to get tuned in to new times

| Updated: November 06, 2021 21:53:15

Young learners at a training centre in Dhaka	—NYTA Photo Young learners at a training centre in Dhaka —NYTA Photo

In the river-filled Bangladesh, like in many countries in a technological transition, the clash between old and new systems has been in place for nearly a century. This land began witnessing it since long before its 1971 independence. The vital areas like agriculture, communications, doing business, education, cultural activities and many others became used to watching these changes. Their impact was so deep that these new styles of living had led to the creation of a new style of life. All these changes had accompanied psychological implications. Changes haven't stopped. They continue even today, and would go on in the coming days with the world witnessing revolutionary advances in science and technology.

Changes are inevitable. Wise people know the value of adopting new technology and gadgets. This reality is also applicable to the larger sectors. One of them is the communications sector. In Bangladesh, the conflict began with the start of motor launch movement on the river routes. Earlier, boats would dominate the   task of carrying passengers and goods. As had been feared, the boatmen and the boat owners vehemently resisted the plying of launches on their routes. Moving unchallenged in the beginning, the boat people eventually rose up in protest as the launch movement started encroaching on their normal profits. In fact, launch movements being speedier, the passengers could reach their destinations much earlier travelling by this transport. Most of them began preferring launches to the slow moving country boats. A countrywide movement against launches ensued, pitting one side against the other. Fierce clashes flared up in different parts of the country. The result, however, went in favour of the launches, and the later-time cargo trawlers. Traditional passenger boats still ply today. But their colourful and confident presence continued to pale beside the motor-launches. With their profession in disarray, and poverty approaching fast, a large number of boatmen switched over to the jobs of porters and related employments. Many joined agro-activities as farm labourers. There is a widely read short story written in Bangladesh in the 1960s. The story tells the readers about both the anger and helpless of the East Bengal boatmen with the start of the movement of launches in the rivers. At the end of the story, the protagonist Situ Majhi breaks down in utter desperation. He has nothing to do except lamenting his star-crossed destiny. The poverty-stricken boatmen are too weak to put up a strong fight against the organised and wealthy launch owners.

In every society and country and the continents, the conflict between the old-time manual skill and the speed of the modern machine is a common spectacle. In the 19th and the early 20th centuries, the opposition to the technology automation was literally world-sweeping. Unemployment of scores of unskilled workers was a widely prevailing scenario. The reason the factory or industry owners would go for the machine was less production cost; thanks to the large-scale retrenchment of the manual labour. Over time it became a rule for the industrialists to install state-of-the-art technical devices from the very beginning. This is the very sequence, with which opens the legendary director Charlie Chaplin's one of the classic movies of the 20th century --- Modern Times. The period of automation tentatively began in the mid-eighteenth century and continued its march up to 1840. Its origins were based in Britain, to spread to continental Europe and the United States in the following century. It needs not be repeated that the England-based Industrial Revolution heralded the transition to a new and yet- unthought-of industrial production process. To speak plainly, the transition comprises going from manual production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing to iron production processes. The increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of mechanised factory system featured the industrial breakthroughs in the main. Being a British colony, the vast Indian sub-continent couldn't keep itself free from the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. The industry that was greatly shaken by the Industrial Revolution was the one producing textile products. The textile industry was the one which first used the modern production methods.

It became eventually a foregone conclusion that the colonised India's weavers, manufacturing hand-woven coarse cloths, would be the first direct victim of the British machine-produced fabrics. The Indian independence leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called upon the people not to by the foreign cloth products. As part of his 'independence movement' he stressed the spread of weaving apparatuses throughout the colonised India. He first raised the slogan targeting the masses, "Ditch foreign clothes. As a demonstration of your patriotism, buy local clothes."  According to folk legends, it was during this time, a cruel segment of the colonial rulers began a barbaric campaign --- chopping off of the thumbs of the poor East Bengal weavers. They lived in the greater Sonargaon area near Dhaka. They used to weave on their handlooms the globally famed muslin fabric.

The irony was due to the British fabrics' refined quality and cheaper price, the then middle-class people fell for the products. It didn't take much time for the colonised India to see textile factories sprouting in every part of the vast sub-continent. It was a natural corollary of the evolution taking place in human life. Although these cases point to the progresses to more advanced forms of things and trends, the clash between the old and new could be viewed as a little different. But, finally, they caused the existing ones to give rise to the updated forms of the older ones. According to many social schools, revolutionary changes also follow a process. Radical changes overnight cannot yield anything fruitful. Agriculture began with ploughs or similar tools. It may have taken nearly hundreds of years for the mechanised agricultural tools to take over. Yet ploughs couldn't be banished altogether. In countries like Bangladesh, both methods are being used simultaneously. But this period should better be called transitional. As people are in favour of progress, smart machines like agricultural robots are set to enter the scene. Medical robots taking the blood pressure reading of a person or those engaged in vaccination programmes are set to emerge as normal scenarios.

But a lot of high-tech sectors, those herald changes as well as trigger clash with the older system, have found firm footing in Bangladesh. The most significant of them is the Information Technology (IT) sector. It has already emerged as an omnipresent new-age technology area in the country. The IT sector is fast replacing the one run by the analogue system. As a consequence, large employers are now busy finding peaceful ways on how to introduce the IT system in their operations. It's daunting task, since it ensues job cuts. But the history of human progress with newer technology replacing the older one is set to follow its own course. Wide-scale replacement of the analogue mobile telephones with so-called smart-phones could be cited as a small instance. Though viewed on a different scale, the expected drastic decline in Dhaka's traffic gridlock after the launch of its metro rail could be cited as another case for a clash between the old and the new. The great losses feared to be incurred by the road-centred buses are viewed as collateral losses by the development experts. That the long suffering commuters will, finally, be able to come free of the debilitating delay in reaching their destinations in the capital is a case of triumph of the new times. These times have always been met with muffled grudge by the agents of bygone periods. It's painful. But it has happened as being inevitable.


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