many of us in India, the contrast between the period of
the First Gulf War in 1991 and the Second War now is striking.
In 1991, satellite television just made its appearance in
India. For the first time we could watch round-the-clock
news programmes, and live coverage of events around the
world. Even then, CNN was not available to cable television
viewers. Many wealthy Indians moved into Five-star hotels
to watch live reporting of the war on CNN, which was just
then making waves in the world of broadcasting. Ted Turner
became a celebrity overnight, and CNN became the most famous
channel in the world during that Gulf war. Those were also
the days when we, in India, still could not get a telephone
connection with ease. I remember paying Rs. 8,000 as a fee
to be included in own-your-telephone(OYT) category, and
waiting for years to get a phone connection. Economic liberalisation
was just beginning in India, and consumer still had restricted
choice in a sellers' market. Internet was not known to people
then. Only a few American military communications experts
had access to, and understanding of, the internet.
twelve years later, our lives have changed almost beyond
recognition. Several news channels - including BBC, Sky
TV, Fox TV, ABC, NBC, CBC, Al Zazeera and several others
now have live coverage of the Gulf war. Earlier, CNN and
other channels depended on the Pentagon and military briefings.
Now, over 2000 correspondents are in Iraq covering the war
directly and sending us live pictures as battles are taking
place and events are unfolding. About 500 journalists are
"embedded" with the allied troops, marching with
the soldiers and reporting what they directly witness. All
these images are now carried directly into our drawing rooms.
Millions of people all over the world are glued to television,
watching the 24-hour saturation coverage of the war and
the political and diplomatic maneuvers surrounding it. Even
in India, none of us need to stir out of our homes to watch
the 9/11 attack took place, most people watched the video
replays of the attack on the first tower within minutes,
and millions watched the crash of hijacked plane into the
second tower live! Many of us in Hyderabad, of course, could
not watch television that evening because of power failure.
But still, we got the news on telephone almost as quickly
as it happened. And by 2003, we have telephones on demand,
with several companies providing a variety of services -
basic telephony, wireless local loop, cellular etc. Long
distance phone costs have plummeted, and the cell phone
calls are actually cheaper on the whole. Internet has become
everyday reality, and millions of us no longer send communications
by ordinary mail. Thousands of people can now be reached
by the flick of a button at zero cost. Internet telephony
across continents is practically as inexpensive as a local
call. Video-conferencing is increasingly common, and our
Supreme Court has even held that evidence of a witness deposing
through videoconferencing is valid under our law! And we
now have buyers' market in India, with consumers having
real choice, quality improving, and prices stable or falling!
there are still many dangers, and some special threats associated
with modern world. But on balance, we have more opportunities
than even before, and more and more people can access information,
technology and healthcare at lower and lower costs. True,
some people do harbour an apocalyptic vision of the world.
True, there could be great ecological dangers awaiting us
if global warming is not reversed. Every age and every technological
advance carries with it some dangers. But we have greater
opportunity than ever before to combat these threats, and
build a better life for most, if not all, people. Therein
lies our hope for the future.