News Time Now Sunday Special By Ravi V S

Long before the advent of modern cinematographic techniques involving the use of complex visual and audio effects, three of the greatest comedians in movie history, Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy in two different movies demonstrated the absurd lengths to which modernisation can go.

In the first one Charlie Chaplin as a worker, in an assembly line in an automated factory, goes through an ordeal of impossible contortions and manoeuvres to parody the effects of automation. At one stage he finds himself sandwiched between two layers of a huge machine, and is totally under the control of a conveyor belt moving back and forth in whichever direction he is pushed. At last, he emerges totally dazed. At the end of the day when he staggers out of the factory, his hands and fingers continue to keep screwing and tightening imaginary nuts and bolts mechanically.

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Charlie Chaplin

Even more hilarious is the scene in which he is strapped to a chain and fed all kinds of food. The automatic machine suddenly goes hay­wire throwing the entire process out of gear. Parts of the machinery become erratic, delivering mechanical shocks to his head and teeth. Good old Charlie gives his verdict on types of automation that are counter-productive.

In another movie, Laurel and Hardy enact a sequence in which they sit for dinner with an eccentric inventor. Being hungry they conjure up visions of juicy steaks, and delicious ice-creams. What they get on their plates, instead, are pills of various colours and sizes. Apparently their eccentric host had reduced human requirement of all nutrients to the size of small pills. Thus one pill supplied protein, another vitamins and yet another carbohydrate. In this hilarious sequence, the two great come­dians show that life is not mere arithmetic involving subtraction or addition but is meant to be lived in the real sense to its fullest potential giving an opportunity to all our senses to interact with the environment.

Laurel and Hardy

It is for this reason that the thought of the fully automated home of the future frightens us, though ironically some people take pride in it. They tell us that in future we do not have to go to a shop or a Mall for anything being sold there can be brought to you. All the commodities will be classified coded and computerised. Suppose you have to buy a shirt of a certain size and colour, all you have to do is to press a button in the home computer, giving the specifications. The supermarket will deliver it with speed through a special pipeline, deducting the appropriate money from your account.

A friend of mine who lives in America expressed his sympathy for me, when I said that I was going to a book store to buy a book, pointing out that he could order any book in the world through the internet. Of course, there was no point in educating him about the pleasure of looking for a book in a real bookshop, browsing through its contents and then making the purchase. No wonder I did not find a single book on his shelf at his house.

This is the age of computers. From corporate executives to travel- agents, scientists to students, everyone is using the computer for some purpose. No doubt the computer has made life easy since it can perform hundreds of functions at lightning speed. No one can afford to be com­puter illiterate in this era of speed and precision when complex calcu­lations have to be performed in a very short time. But mere admiration for a computer without a corresponding appreciation of the revolution in electrical engineering and electronics will not give anyone, let alone a student, an opportunity to look at the computer in proper perspective. How can we pardon a student who enthusiastically talks about his personal computer but is ignorant of the work of early pioneers like Kirchoff, Tesla, and Oersted.

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A few years ago visitors to England’s prestigious Oxford University, were politely cautioned against the use of computers inside the university as a matter of principle. They were welcome to use them outside( no doubt the situation has changed now and computers are allowed). The moral behind the guideline issued years ago was not that the computer should be shunned as a gadget but those good traditions should not be lost sight of in our over-enthusiasm for using modern devices—an example of Oxonian snobbery coupled with British humour.

Information technology to here stays and the coming years are going to witness the development of incredibly mind-boggling devices

Information technology to here stays and the coming years are going to witness the development of incredibly mind-boggling devices such as we had never imagined. But how can we forget that the highway leading to such a sophisticated technology did not start by itself from anywhere? It had its origins in the firm and solid foundations laid by some of the giants of physics, e.g. Faraday’s experiments and Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory.

The next time you hear someone dropping computer jargon like access, download, scan and log-in you would be justified in displaying a patronising grin suggesting that all this would never have come about without the basic advances in electrical technology and electronics, a factor no one seems to realise.


  1. Delightful read. Recalled performances and sequences of these three great actors watching their films on 8, 16 mm projectors and in dark stark cinema houses. Regal in Jamshedpur and Naulakha in Ludhiana. Thank you Ravi.


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