January 29, 2020
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Hung By A Chad

Its 'electile dysfunction' came at the right time. The US needed a check as it had gotten way ahead of reality.

Hung By A Chad
FROM judicial am-Bush to crashing Gore, the US election has produced such a surfeit of twisted puns and tortured jokes that it is easy to overlook the irony supplement. Look at the paradoxes. A man who claims to have been instrumental in the birth of the Internet—defeated because voting machines and ballot papers from the industrial age cheated his constituents. He monitors the confusion in Florida on an array of devices such as a Blackberry two-way pager, a high-speed laptop and a high-definition television. And worse, it all happens on the cusp of the millennium when America has defeated the Y2K problem and is poised at a technological launch pad for a journey that may well end up substituting the word 'living' with the term 'functioning'.

Such a confluence of misfortunes could drive strong politicians to suicide. But as it happens, it may have saved America a thoughtless trip to technological utopia. In the years to come, this country may well wonder if its "electile dysfunction" did not happen at the right time.

Yes, America needed the check because it had gotten way ahead of reality. This is a nation consumed with the culture of immediacy and the power of now. It is a society where people routinely organise their day on a palm device, call up their love life on Yahoo! Personal, order their groceries from Webvan, look up stock quotes on their cellphones, and buy and sell their coats, notes, and even votes on

E-Bay. Everything is new, instant, fresh, faster, fitter, better. There was a time when young Americans were smitten with speed, the hip metaphor for amphetamines. Today it is simply the velocity of life.Check it out in Silicon Valley, where speed is everything. Speed-to-team, speed-to-product and speed-to-market are the mantras for success. In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of the foremost tech gurus of our times, proposed the eponymous Moore’s Law that stated that the number of transistors on a microprocessor—the brain of the computer—would double every 18 months. While the law worked approximately for decades starting with some 3,000 transistors on the first processors, there was always a question mark about the limits to which it could be stretched. Early this month, the Moore-founded Intel Corporation announced a breakthrough that will allow 400 million transistors on a single chip. The transistors feature structures that are just 30 nanometres (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre) in size and three atomic layers thick. Such microchips could complete 400 million calculations in the time it takes one to blink one’s eye. Elsewhere, companies such as Sycamore, Nortel and Lucent speak of an expanding bandwidth—a terabit tsunami—that will enable the entire phone conversations and television broadcasts in the world to be transmitted over a single fibre optic strand. Get the picture? A voter could well be sitting on the potty at home and at the appointed voting hour just say "Gore" or "Bush" for his choice to be recorded on some remote computer and the results tabulated instantly.

But what if he said "Go-sh!"?
So, here’s my take. The hanging chad will remain. Not literally, but as a metaphor for doubt (as in, "It’s a hanging chad whether Ram was born in Ayodhya.") The paper chad may give way to a distorted computer imprint from a half-clicked mouse. Will county boards decipher ‘abort’, ‘retry’ and ‘enter’? Americans are distraught by their technological flub and see it as some kind of international ignominy. Someone ought to console them saying, "It’s the politics, stupid." No matter how much they advance technologically, the good news is that their politics is still an art and a science of the retail variety. Sure, the campaigns and debates are choreographed for television. But it is still a product of shoe-leather politics where candidates head out to the neighbourhood high school or local church to kiss babies and glad-handle veterans. Like Hillary Clinton said proudly, she wore out six pant suits before she won her Senate seat. Americans ought to be thankful for that and ensure they will never settle for a face on a screen beamed from a television studio. If that be the case, they may someday be ruled by an advanced version of hal, Arthur Clarke’s soulless rendition of a robot.

Yep. Technology is a treat. But to treat it as a full meal of human existence is fallacious. The centrepiece of human thoughts and aspirations is the mind, not the microchip.

Chidanand Rajghatta | Washington correspondent, The Indian Express
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