A case for adda
Saqib Sarker Weekend

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Whenever a topic of discussion involves comparison between the “these days”, i.e. the current time, and the “good old days”, i.e. the bygone era of the previous generation(s), it generates divided opinions. The proponents of good old days speak from the point of view of nostalgia. The perspectives are very much informed by personal experiences and associations rather than objective assessment. The younger people refer to a different time as their “good old days”. The perpetual clash regarding which generation upheld the best values, among other things, is often simply a reflection of each individual's point of view.

In the short story Shompotti Shomorpon (fortune offering) Rabindranath humorously described how older generations derisively view the younger generations. The context of the story is that an extremely miserly father Jawggonath refused to pay for the medical treatment of his son's wife and the wife consequently died. Brindaban, the son, then had a heated row with his father and announced that he would leave. “If expensive medicines could save people from dying then how was it possible for kings to die?,” was Jawggonath's justification.

Rabindranath then writes: “Actually, had Brindaban thought about this more calmly he might have found some solace from this argument. Neither his mother or his grandmother was treated with modern medicine before their deaths. Their household was just stubbornly orthodox. But the moderns don't even want to die in the old fashioned way. The time of our story is set when the English had only started to arrive in this country. But even then the old fashioned people of that time would be flabbergasted by the conducts of the moderns.”

So, when we make the point that people of the olden days would actually gather together for “adda” (hang out) instead of clinging onto the virtual world, there is certainly an element of nostalgia. But that argument is not without its merits.

“Adda” is defined in the Bengali dictionary as a congregation or a meeting of family and/or friends where people have fun. People still get together and have fun but the meetings are permeated with and punctuated by constant notifications from hand held devices. The phones act like electronic portals that connect us to an alternative world in the virtual space. And we live a dual existence. We try to defy the laws of physics and be present in two places at the same time.

We cannot talk about the virtual world without trying to understand what keeps people glued to the screen. For platforms like Facebook the appeal is not merely the personalized “news” feed. It is the relentless nature that drag people towards it. Psychologists have found this studying consumer behaviours. If there is a constant supply of new products then people will keep coming back and will remain interested. Even though in reality the “new” products are not really new in the sense that they provide something fundamentally different from the old products. They are often a simple repackaging of the earlier version.

This is why the life blood of modern marketing depends on constantly re-introducing the same product with 'exciting' updates. 'There was this one little update that makes it worthwhile to buy the same phone again' - this is not an unfamiliar justification for getting a new phone every year; not for a lot of people.

In may ways, quality time with friends and family is the opposite of virtual interactions. It's humanizing and it creates real connections. You can laugh over absolutely nothing and be in the moment. The “plugged” existence in the virtual universe also mean that we are prey to endless marketing and vulnerable to being forced into slave consumer behaviours. Like all mythical elixirs of life it comes with a heavy price too. From actual physical effects like altering appetite to making people addictive to the constant updates, computer reality does not merely usher in a new way of being but it may actually deprive us of developing important human qualities.

This has impacted everyone, old or young. But may be we are also gaining a consciousness of sorts about where this is leading us. May be the commotion and chaos during late night board games, the retelling of old stories, and simply being with each other will triumph. May be one day people will just get tired of their phones blurting out update noises and call their old friends to come in for a good old fashioned 'adda', where no wifi network is needed for liking and sharing the stories of our lives.

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