I had an interesting thought while reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time just a few days ago. The series has a lot to say about families. And in the world we live in, flooded with technology as it increasingly is and continues to be, perhaps the Wizarding world can highlight for us a rather interesting paradox.
To begin with, let us look at the technology we are surrounded by. As Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau says in the movie ‘The Pink Panther’, technology began with such things as”two-way radio and email”. But it has since shape-shifted into the form of a giant that keeps growing and spreading and changing, not just from day to day, but even as little as hour to hour. Almost everything we see around us incorporates some or other form of technological advancement, and none more so than our methods of communication.
Letters and telegrams have long since become obsolete in the face of emails, phone texts, messaging services, and video chats. I’m sure there must be several more examples that you can think of. And we’re still looking for better, more refined means of communication, for keeping in touch with our families and friends and workplaces.
The Wizarding world is not too far different in this regard. They have post owls, intelligent creatures that can find any recipient, no matter the distance or location. The government uses Inter-departmental memos to relay instant messages between departments or individuals. People use Howlers, when normal letters just don’t have enough oomph. The Marauders invented enchanted mirrors to talk to one another. Ghostly Patroni may be called in times of trouble to deliver urgent messages. And best of all, the Floo system, sending people and letters across inter-dimensional spaces through emerald green fire. You can even rest your head in the coals while you chat, without getting a sunburn or singing off your brows!!
And yet, with all this technology available, to bring us all together, to become as close-knit a group as possible, the paradox lies in the fact, that the closer we come together, the farther we endeavor to go.
Interesting… is it not?
Think about it. Although I do agree that this phenomena is not true for absolutely everyone, the condition still does exist. In days when one had to wait weeks and months for letters to reach their recipients, much less the replies to reach the senders of the same, the sense of closeness and community was almost tangible.
Our grandparents will remember a time when each letter was eagerly awaited, read and re-read until it bore the thumbprints of various colors, and put away safely in a strongbox, it’s memories, emotions and fragrance, carefully preserved for the next ever-so-many years, and diligently added to with each new letter.
I’ve found many such letters, and to read them is to go back in time, to see anew the people we thought we knew. To feel what they felt, to experience moments they held dear. To recognize a known time from a new perspective. And the wizarding world can do the same through its Pensieves.
But I digress…
Now for the purposes of illustration, of the point of paradox, let us turn our attention to one particular, well-known wizarding family; the Weasley Family. To all appearances, they are a well-settled, loving, outgoing, inter-connected family, wrapped in layers upon layers of goodness. The children are all strong, ambitious, driven, talented individuals, proud to be a part of the close familial network.
And yet, if we were to step behind the Family Wards, so to speak, we realize, that the eldest boys have flown the coop, with physical separation and expensive international Floo costs putting a firm distance between the home and their individuality. The boys felt stifled by the Weasley Matriarch’s insistence on familial closeness, and chose occupations that not only fulfilled their own ambitions and interests, but also put them beyond her reach of influence.
The phenomenon, of course, is not restricted to families. In today’s world where everyone is available at the push of a few buttons, the desire to just get away from it all, is ever present, be it at home or the workplace. Holidays and vacations aren’t just simple adventures anymore, but have become a sort of necessity in the mad rush of life’s expectations and the need to find a space for oneself to simply Be.
Speaking for myself, not a few days ago, my parents and I passed by the home of an old family friend and my father spoke about making a note to visit them someday. I asked why we could not do so right then. Mum replied, “No-one is free these days, as opposed to the time of our elders, when life was less stressful and people were more open to unexpected visits at odd times of the day, without prior notification.”
It is a heady realization. We are so deeply plugged in, into the matrix of immediate digital connectivity, that we have no time left to be ourselves. With the effect, that we find ourselves looking for avenues and excuses and reasons to take the blue pill, just to get away from it all.
This space, created online for ease of communication of all sorts, may have helped us in several ways, with new ways being invented every day. But it has also forced us to realize, dimly, that perhaps we are just a bit too close to everyone. That we need our own air to breathe, our own thoughts to reverberate in our minds, our own voices to be heard.
Even if Harry’s world allows for instantaneous travel and communication, there are magical walls such as wards and physical walls like distance that create an effective barrier.
Technology may have created inroads into the private inner sanctum sanctorum of our lives, but it has taken away, with our willing aid, the privacy we once enjoyed. Rather like Jim Carrey’s 1998 movie ‘The Truman Show‘, the smallest fraction of thought that passes through our minds is out there for the world to like or comment on, in bright new shiny smileys and emojis. And now we have begun to scramble for control. And in many ways, that control comes from an enforced distance.
The technology paradox we face today is real, and for me, frightening. But I have, like several others, learnt to use it and to resist it using me, lest I grow to resent either it or myself.