From longhand to typewriters to Online

rifaat newaz
Published : 30 Oct 2016, 03:23 PM
Updated : 30 Oct 2016, 03:23 PM

Our whole world has changed beyond recognition. And the change has nowhere been more pronounced than in the way digitalization, or call it, in the old-fashioned way, technology has changed perspectives and priorities. Every other minute, when I lock into on the internet, I am amazed, like so many others, at how easy information-gathering has become for us — and not just in Bangladesh. In all this time that I have been associated with, fundamentally through my opinion pieces and through this craving for information of the latest sort, I have marvelled at the many ways in which science, or post-modern science, has given a new direction to our lives, to the way we think and wonder and imagine.

All of this development, this progress is testimony to the power of the human mind to push us increasingly deeper into ourselves, into new frontiers and into the universe we are part of. It once used to be our planet, the home which Earth is, that was our overall concern. It is not any more. Or let us put it this way: we have moved far beyond our planet, into quasars and stars and suns and worlds out there. You have only science to thank for this enormity of intellectual expansion. When we log in to the websites of journals and newspapers all around the world, we realize the profundity of the times we inhabit and the sheer speed with which we are racing through it.

It was not like this before. Online newspapers were not in our range of vision. That we could keep in touch with the world by the second and the minute was a thought that never was, until such things as the e-mail came in. And soon we had Facebook and Twitter and what not. Everyone tweets these days, which makes you smile a little. Time was when birds lost themselves in twitter on the branches of trees. Today you and I tweet. That is change for you and me. The bird is today a symbol of modernity.

But, no, it is not the way life used to be. Personally, my first exposure to information as borne on the wings of the media was through the Karachi-based newspaper Dawn. As a schoolboy in Quetta, Baluchistan, I waited for my copy of Dawn to arrive by train, a nearly twenty-four journey, from Karachi. We were, as you may already have guessed, a full day behind in our reading of the news. If in Karachi people were reading the Sunday newspaper on Sunday, we in Quetta were reading the Saturday newspaper on Sunday. It was an age when we did not have television, for television would not come in until 1964 and that too in a few cities like Karachi and Dacca (as it was spelt then). There was the radio which, once you had it switched on, took about five minutes to warm up before you could work the knobs to get the radio station of your desire.

And then came, many years later of course, my foray into journalism. That was in the early 1980s, when computers had yet made no inroads into newspaper offices in Bangladesh. There were all those typewriters, but how many of us were able to work the keys? We did the next best thing: we wrote in longhand, submitted our editorials or our news reports to a department where the whole thing was 'composed' in those metallic alphabets placed on a board and then sent off to another wing of the newspaper called the reading section. The good people there read the items through for any letter or word that might have gone missing before finally giving the items a go-ahead. But there were all the pitfalls associated with not giving a thorough reading of the product, by the writer or his department head, before it could be given a green signal. There was that man, a typical representation of the embarrassment that could come your way if you did not go through the news reports and editorials one final time. You wrote of a chef who had made it to the headlines in Europe because of an enormous Christmas cake he had baked. The next morning, horror was yours when you realized that those in the compose and reading sections had changed 'chef' to 'chief'. They had thought the man who wrote 'chef' had got his spelling wrong!

That situation could not go on. So struggling yet ambitious journalists like me bravely took to the typewriter, working the keys one finger at a time. It was tedious, not to say arduous, but we had to catch up with the times. And the times revolved around the typewriter. And just when we had mastered the art of putting our thoughts on paper through the typewriter, the computer barged in — those large, outlandish boxes with screens which thrilled us to no end. But there was a certain sadness that came attached to it all. Suddenly those hard-working people in the compose and reading sections were threatened with redundancy. If computers could make a writer self-contained, who needed others to come in? That was the heartbreak attendant on development. But the inevitable could not be averted. Those who could take the computer as a friend, stayed. Those who could not, walked away in their burden of sadness.

But journalism or life did not stop there. Technology was giving newspapers a new, glossy, almost haughty look. Black and white photographs were being replaced by colour photographs, which was a revolution in the media world. Every newspaper was competing with every other for maximum circulation. There were all the advertisements which the management of the newspapers pursued in dead earnest, as if the life of the newspapers depended on them. And it did. The shrewder ones among the lot collected the largest number of adverts, thanks to their acumen and good journalism. The laggards, led by editors for whom vision was a stranger, struggled to make a living.

Meanwhile, television expanded in a big way in Bangladesh. It was a new threat to the newspapers, for it promised its audience an endless flow of information beyond midnight, a point where newspapers went to sleep after a tiring day of news gathering. Television did not get tired and in fact came to life with the passage of every minute of the nocturnal hours. Those who watched television before slipping into bed thus had more of an up-to-date knowledge of what was happening in the world than those who would read their newspapers the next morning. Suddenly this huge beast called television was putting the little lamb called newspapers to shame. The newspapers needed to catch up, which is when some of them settled on the idea of running an online version apart from the printed one. Not all of them, not many of them were able, though, to get on top of the intricacies involved.

But those who ventured forth with online newspapers, as distinct from the online versions of newspapers, did make a difference. There is, which has established a reputation not only for speed and substance but also objectivity-cum-probity. The speed aspect is what you see in the rapidity with which news items are updated. The substance is something you spot in the checking and double checking of facts before the news gets to be uploaded. And the objectivity is essentially the integrity which defines the presentation of news to the reader. All these qualities have turned into a household name, not just for its readers but for newspapers as well — for a good number of newspapers rely on its reports to fill the gaps that often threaten to leave their pages devoid of substance. Other online newspapers have come into the picture meanwhile, most with performance that is to be lauded.

How the skies have changed colour! How the world as we knew it has passed before us, to be replaced by one we certainly did not imagine would come to pass! The old sense of mystery is gone — and yet it is a mystery how swiftly the world has come to our doorsteps where once we sweated and struggled to catch up with the world.

We are all online now. Those who are not will, being out of line, lose out. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp — they are all around you. There is no escape. But, honestly, do you really want to escape?

Syed Badrul Ahsan
journalist, author and columnist

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher