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Shunning Ignorance

Unfortunately, we in Pakistan lag far behind developed countries in the crucial area of innovations and discoveries

By: Sajid Hasan
Published: February 14, 2018
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Not very many years ago when the famous Star Trek series was first brought to the local viewers by Pakistan Television, the few who watched it were mesmerised. It was a dream and a fantasy replete with gadgetry that seemed unreal only a few decades back.

It was science fiction, and as a child I thought that it was a brilliant flight of imagination, nothing more. It was much later that I realised that the series was based on hard core scientific probabilities. Technology is the product of creative, impulsive thinking. And that’s how the world has made massive breakthroughs: by imagining the impossible and then making it happen.

In the last hundred years or so, humanity has made the most unbelievable and astounding strides in the realm of science and technology, in addition to all other fields of intellectual inquiry. And physics has virtually turned on its head. Test tube babies are already a thing of the past with genetic modification being the new buzzword. Don’t be surprised if you soon see a dog talking or a horse flying or a human with endless computing power. While they say such efforts are banned, don’t take their word for it. Somewhere on this earth, strange experiments are producing genetically modified species.

Unfortunately, we in Pakistan lag far behind developed countries in the crucial area of innovations and discoveries. We drive the fanciest of cars, buy the fanciest of cell phones and computers, and adorn our rooms with state-of-the-art TV sets, without knowing what makes them work and how. So, the moment they pop an IC or wiring, the gadgets go bust and cars turn to junk. We don’t possess the skills or the means to address the problem. The sophisticated machinery that we so gleefully throw our money on is forever damaged in the hands of untrained technicians.

Our primitive and outdated education system churns out students year after year without a clue of the real world out there. By and large, the environment is just not technology-oriented. We in Pakistan are in need of a facelift, a paradigm shift. The sooner we realise it the better.

Comparisons are odious. But in order for us to fathom what we are up against, they must be undertaken. Let us look at China for instance. The giant leaps this nation has taken in grasping this need to understand the advancement in technology has rendered it formidable and a world leader in manufacturing. The reason is the abundance of skilled workers. From satellites to tennis racquets to robotics, China has conquered them all.

Americans, arguably if not surely, are aeons ahead of the rest of the world. Hollywood is not just an entertainment industry with wasteful astronomical budgets, as most would want to believe, but an ideation factory with prudent spending on technology development.

When you go to see a superhero movie like the Avengers or Transformers in 3D, it is a testament to the technological powers the West has gathered in their hands.

Survival of the fittest is not just a theory of evolution, it is the principle that nature pursues and practices. That’s why technology has been rigorously guarded by all superpowers. In today’s extremely polarised world, compassion is just an empty word. If we think that the world will help us, think again. Strategic advantages are what all the countries around the world seek. The Machiavellian world is as real and thriving as proxy wars are.

Stephen Hawkins, not very many years ago, declared rightly that humans will possess all knowledge within the next 50 years. And where do we stand?

    A cursory glance at our literature reveals that most of what we churn out, both in poetry and prose, is defeatist, self-pitying, a long cry for divine help. I am afraid that is true as well for our media and its handlers.

Genres like horror, adventure, science fiction (sci-fi) and other such stuff can only be found in western literature. Even India has suffered from this sterile creativity for a very long time. They have started to drift toward other genres.

We used to boast that our television plays were better than the Indians, but that was a long time ago. Indians have since overcome their shortcomings and are now far ahead of us. Not only because they have broader storylines in terms of censorship but because they have budgets that totally overshadow ours.

Our dramas reflect the paucity of imagination and the same themes are regurgitated year after year after year. Stereo-typical subjects with almost stereo-typical characters are what our audiences are offered and that’s what they are supposed to have become used to. The truth is that we are caught in a circular rut. Being a part of the so-called creative field for more than a quarter of a century, I acknowledge this to be our real predicament.

Our media managers work to restrict budgets on productions, diligently employing penpushers, who are not creative writers but work on directions given by their bosses.

Like-minded and groupies now rule. If you are a part of a group that is close to the administration, you will constantly be employed. The production houses are now in the control of media owners and their marketing heads. The content department is where they follow trends.

The moment there is a serial that is appreciated by women viewers, they will produce a hundred more on virtually the same theme. No wonder then that out of a hundred serials, only one may become popular. The rest are fillers that just run because you have to have something on air.

It’s boring, but no one notices. Why? Because there is a moral brigade which – in the name of faith and family values – has kept the audiences both extremely judgmental and very hostile to change. We are sterilised against change. This is why our young, educated generation is turning to social media and the internet where there is a world not altogether safe, but still free.

Unfortunately these tactics are outdated and ineffectual in this day and age.  This system was designed to keep the populace in check. To keep intelligence away. To keep them in fear of change. Not to question authority. To toe the line. This arrangement was very effective for a very long time. But now it’s a different story altogether. If we don’t take measures to rectify these big fault lines, we are as good as redundant.

What we must eventually realise is that we have been focusing too much on depriving our people through censorship and subjugation for the benefit of the world powers and their facilitators. The result is a disaster that ticks like a time bomb. While it may be good to call ourselves the bastion or fort of our beliefs, the naked truth is we are not technology friendly. Therefore, the instruments that were supposed to be used to discover new horizons are nothing more than accounting or writing machines for us.

    Logical thinking is surely not our forte. And to make matters worse, our jingoistic, propagandist media is leading us into a blind alley.

The reason I say this is because we now live in a global village. In a transparent world. Every time a Pakistani takes upon himself to define his myopic truth, laced with primitive and outdated morality, the entire population is labeled, and our country demonised. The entire world judges us.

Take for instance the case of Malala Yousafzai. She was shot because she was raising her voice in favour of education for women in an area where it is taboo. In the name of religion and tradition our women in certain areas, let’s admit it, are kept under lock and key and are meant only to be domestic entities, deprived in every sense of the word.

But that is not the true picture. In urban societies like Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad we have highly educated, vibrant women who enjoy all the liberties in the world. Ask a foreigner about Pakistan and they will say women are marginalised, enslaved even. They will always quote Malala as an example.

Perception created about us worldwide is negative. Do we do anything to counter such notions about Pakistan? No we don’t, because there are no think-tanks or civil society to counter such absurd notions. At best, to counter anything the Pakistan government doesn’t understand, it blocks. Like it blocked the internet a year or two ago and kept it blocked till somebody must have told the dummies that there are numerous alternative routes to access the internet.

Let’s talk democracy for a minute. I ask you, is it a fair concept in a country like ours, with a vast majority uneducated? Romans, who coined and defined the concept, had to eventually poison the great philosopher Socrates to death (an act they later regretted and still do to this day).

Democracy as a concept is almost impossible to define. A majority is not necessarily always in the right. In fact most of the times it has favoured wrong notions. The truth is that humanity still has not evolved a system that can provide every human a level playing field. We are far from giving this world a homogeneous justice system that uniformly, and without prejudice, dispenses justice with equanimity. Democracy is just not working for us, neither is our misguided parliament. We need to overhaul.

So what should one expect in the year 2018? Nothing really. Unless we start to give real freedom to our people, unless we give them choices, until we realise what a mess we are in and open our eyes to not just understanding technology but using it in the most productive way possible.

 

Here are some recommendations:

  • Incentivise adult literacy and set them a target of five years. Use all television channels to act as schools.
  • Screen documentaries on science, literature from around the world, translate major philosophers’ work, and showcase all the cultures. Introduce new languages.
  • Let the real writers, authors, thinkers lead the way with their imagination instead of harassing them for their liberal, progressive ways. Let freedom come to the minds.
  • Invest in community systems and restrain the rich from taking undue advantage of their wealth.
  • Introduce computer centres in all villages far and wide, to the remotest corners of Pakistan.
  • And most importantly, introduce national unity as the main component by changing all discriminatory laws in our legal system. Let the Pakistanis, no matter what religion or caste or creed, be equal citizens.

Media is not just the hardware; it is the eyes and ears of any society or country. If we want to really change for the better and progress, we need to make some fundamental changes in our national outlook. We need to modernise Pakistan and its people. Let’s do it in 2018… or it may be too late.

About the Author
Sajid Hasan
is a veteran television and film actor and media person. He is working as Executive Vice President at the BOL Media Group and hosts a daily news show 'Breaking Today' at BOL News.