The Speed of NowInterfaith Connections

Pakistani culture is one that has proven to be especially resistant to change and technology. While this attitude is still prevalent, our society has greatly evolved to become one of the top emerging markets in the world.

The youth of Pakistan, both rural and urban, are coming to accept the fact that in order to succeed in today’s highly competitive world, we have to make use of any and all tools at our disposal. As a member of Pakistan’s growing youth population, I see the need to modernize the country by introducing new technologies; however, there are still some new developments that do not sit well with me due to my personal beliefs and disposition.

In my opinion, the modern world is too absorbed by consumerism to even notice the irreversible damage being done to our society. The elite waste tons of food every year, while over 795 million people are undernourished. We spend money on needless items like gold foil, when we could be helping one of the 22,000 children that die every day from poverty. The overuse of CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) have led to a gap in the ozone layer. Increased greenhouse gas emissions have led to climate change and, as a result, many species are dying out.

On the other hand, new technology also has many positive impacts. Oscar-winning director Sharmin Obaid Chinoy’s documentary Saving Face highlights a useful implementation of one modern practice. Plastic surgery can help the victims of body disfigurations live a normal life. If plastic surgery and the use of prosthetics were made mainstream in Pakistan, it would be a great help to the populace.

A few months ago, I was returning from school, when I saw a homeless man on crutches asking for food at a traffic light. I saw that he was missing a leg and all he had in its place was a jagged stump. He was holding a sign (written in Urdu) that read, “My leg was torn off by shrapnel during a bombing. My family has disowned me due to my appearance. I am unable to get a job. Please help.” Sadly, cases like these are not uncommon amongst the less privileged in Pakistan. Recently, however, Pakistanis are showing that they are now more accepting of technology that may help them. I was doing an internship at the Indus Hospital, which is a hospital that provides free healthcare to the needy, and they showed us the prosthetics department. The hospital makes multiple prosthetics every day and administers them free of charge. In the waiting area, I saw the same homeless man, who now had a prosthetic leg. This showed me that the advent of technology does not just benefit the wealthy, but also the poor.

Another advancement that many Pakistanis think crosses a boundary is the use of contraceptives. While this is rejected by much of the rural populace, I firmly believe that contraceptives are essential for a stable society. Due to the taboo surrounding birth control, a married couple not ready for children might end up with a very large number of offspring that they may not be able to provide for. Birth control measures can also decrease the rate of population growth, which would be beneficial to rising levels of poverty.

Other developments in the field of medicine upset the sentiments of many Pakistanis. The use of medical marijuana to treat debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and cancer is on the rise in many parts of the world. However, it is not a common course of treatment in Pakistan, as marijuana is a mind-altering substance that some scholars of religion say is forbidden, while others firmly believe that, under the right circumstances, anything potentially life-saving is permitted. Similarly, I believe that any substance that can reduce the symptoms of these diseases should not be illegal. A family friend of mine has MS and the doctors tried all conventional medical treatments to no effect. However, when she was taken to the United States for help, she was immediately prescribed marijuana edibles. At the time of this writing, she is responding positively to the treatment and has been able to live a relatively normal life. In my opinion, the doctors in Pakistan should have recommended this, as it has alleviated her symptoms and helped her to cope with the pain. I think it is time for institutions to realize that social taboos are inconsequential when a human life hangs in the balance.

All of the above uses of technology are in the medical sphere, but in my personal experience, the area in which technology plays the most transformative role is in the way small scale businesses intersect with everyday life. I realized this when I was at an antiques market in Karachi. A few years ago, this market was dying. Not because there was no interest in the merchants’ products, but because no one had the right tools to market them. However, when I recently went to the market and asked for some bronze figures, the shop owner simply whipped out his cell phone and made a few calls. While the figurines were not immediately available, he said he would WhatsApp me pictures of all the pieces he would be able to get. Upon inquiry, he told me that he had a group on WhatsApp where he would regularly post unique finds for sale that were available for home delivery. He told me that before installing the app, his family business was failing and he could barely put food on the table. Now, by finding customers through online communication, he has increased the size of his shop fivefold.

Another area where technology helps Pakistanis is providing access to valuable resources in hard to reach areas. One of the most poverty stricken areas in Pakistan is the Tharparkar desert. Due to a scarcity of water, its inhabitants are unable to live ordinary lives and are forced to ration their water. However, that is about to change. I attended a fundraiser, organized by OAKS, a charity organization, that raised a few million rupees to finance the digging of 10 wells in the region. Without technology, this would take significantly more time and money. But due to excavators and other construction equipment, this job is much easier to do and can bring water to the people of Tharparkar much faster.

If anything, my society has taught me to be grateful for the world I am living in and to take nothing for granted. I was always exposed to technology, ever since I was born, so I used to assume it was commonplace and everyone had access to it. One day, a member of our household staff asked me to go the electronics store to help him to pick out a new phone. When I offered to pay for it, he refused, saying that he just needed my help in finding a good phone. He was more worried about the front camera quality than anything else. When we got home, he asked for temporary access to the WiFi network. After an hour, he came to my room and began thanking me repeatedly. I asked him, “What happened?” His reply broke my heart. He said, “I just spoke to my wife and son face-to-face for the first time in six months. I wanted to thank you for giving me access to the internet.” This really put things into perspective for me. While I used the internet for idle purposes, like watching videos or reading the news, he needed it to help him talk to his family.

This helped me realize that, despite the doubts that I have about the ethics of technology, it really can improve the lives of millions. From simple things, like allowing a man to connect with his family, to reconstructing a person’s face, technology is a gift to mankind. Instead of constantly rejecting it, Pakistan should embrace it with open arms.

Khawaja Mustafa Shah is a sciences student at Bay View Academy in Karachi. He grew up in Karachi, Pakistan. He has completed an internship with Family Education Services and is pursuing one in SIUT (Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation).