Saturday, November 19, 2005

Tech Lust and Uncle Tom Imperialism

So I got my work laptop a few days ago. I still haven’t really switched over to it yet. 25 gigs of mp3s on my Mac keep from doing so. Once I switch my music over to my work laptop I’ll have my home laptop and my office laptop, located approximately a minute walk from each other. The utility of portability will be lost on me. Though, it’ll be good to separate my work life from my personal life as much as possible. Especially since every other circumstance I find myself in conspires against this (I had a meeting after tonight’s dinner with my house/workmate to discuss my current project). The point being, with two laptops at my disposal, both being quite nice, tech lust isn’t a state I should find myself in.

But on a smoke break, as I was walking around my office courtyard today I was peering through the office windows. I noticed that a lot of workmates, the locals on my team, have nicer laptops than me. Smaller, lighter, faster, newer…prettier, oh they are pretty, pretty little things. Half of them have flat screens, and nice big black Dell towers. Now I’m glad that our team is outfitted nicely, hell, I’ve been given a very nice laptop myself. But I was still lusting. And since there aren’t any…uhm, well, since there is little else occupying my lustful and leering gaze these days, computers get my full devotion.

So for more than a fleeting moment, I was wondering what they, the locals, my coworkers, were doing with nicer equipment than me. I was green, lusting. I was given my laptop in a hurry because one was not ready for me when I got here. It was someone else’s, cleaned up and given to me. My first suspicion was that the new one I was supposed to get was taken by the local IT staff, and I was given one of their older ones (some of the personal photos of an IT staff member and Grand Theft Auto 3 files in the recycle bin helped this suspicion). Now, this type of switch is not an unprecedented occurrence. IT departments the world over are often the best equipped departments in a company. The executives may come in a strong second. Every IT department at the companies I’ve worked for had the latest and greatest. Often enough, when the opportunity availed itself, I did the same myself. It’s how I got some of my best toys.

So then came the imperialism part. I, knowing all this, having done this myself, I was still a bit perturbed at the situation. Who were they, with the money “we” were pouring in, to take funds earmarked for us selfless and devoted development workers and get themselves damn nice laptops. We who are here to help them—their audacity…their ingratitude.

My prejudices against south-asian culture, holding it full of deception, scheming, corruption, and self-serving cheats came blazing through. Sadly, these views come largely inculcated by my parents, relatives and others sharing my background. Though, the biases and prejudices are not wholly unwarranted, as we all know, corruption is endemic in Pakistan and the sub-continent. I’ve been witness and victim of such acts, as many people who find themselves in this part of the world have been.

So here I was, coming to do development work, eyeing the locals with suspicion. Here I was, a second-generation American, brown skin and all, speaking Urdu with the locals, all chummy with them. Here I was, green-eyed, distrustful, disdainfully eyeing my coworkers. The self-righteousness was reproachable.

Here works in the Uncle Tom tip. Yes, this comes with another assumption on my part. After all just in the last post I was saying that I still feel quite a distance from the Afghanis. To many of them I am an American—simply, straight forward, no two ways about it. In too many ways they are correct. (The issue of American identity…a Pandora’s box not for this post…or even this blog perhaps) Bluntly speaking, they are correct. American as I am, I still felt like an Uncle Tom.

I condemning people I share a bond with for doing something I have done myself. I condemning because I am coming from a position of beneficence, a position of privilege, a redoubled privilege. I saw myself as not being the white man bestowing his cultured and civilized gifts upon the Himalayan barbarians. But, rather I the brown man, the prodigal son returned, helping his lost cousins find their way. I, Uncle Tom—imperialist extraordinaire.

Well…the next post will have pictures, I swear. I swear I have too much free time here. I’ll try to get out, post something interesting…


Anonymous said...

I am responding from hawaii, where local vs. haole (white, outsider) is the prevalent pre-political stance of the disenfranchised. The question is how to turn it into a useful politics. When you figure this out, pls post. Be well and keep writing (and not just blogging - you are a writer and i would love to see your work published, eg the paper you did for my class.) Aloha, Prof. M

Anonymous said...

Dell's in Kabul? Imperialism indeed.

Q. A. Shah said...

It's really not the Dell's (after all, they're probably assembled in Korea). It's more likely that it's me.

Q. A. Shah said...

Prof. M,
If my next post was to answer how to turn the stance into positive politics, I don't think I'd be posting anytime soon. I'll keep writing, no need to worry about that. Hopefully I'll start submitting one of these days. I'm going to email you about my paper.


Anonymous said...

Hi Quasim, I'd be interested in talking with you about contributing to my forum at World Stage Pictures
World Stage is an unusual mix of film society and social cause forum. If you email me back at, I'll tell you more about what we do.
All the Best,
William Doll

NegativeMode said...

Never trust the Indochinese, especially after a few Mint Juleps. Seriously.