Editors note: Imagine if every time you used Google, you were reminded of how you lost your family then found them many years later. That’s how it is for Saroo Brierley, whose life story is the basis for Lion, nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture and Supporting Actor (Dev Patel, who plays Brierley as a young man). Brierley penned the following op-ed for Mashable about how technology which emerged in the years after he was lost was the only thing that allowed him to find his way back.
Google changed my life
We use Google every day to search for answers.For me, its been more than a convenience; it changed my life.
It was a key component in helping me on my journey to find my true identity. When I was five years old I lived with my mother, two brothers and a younger sister in a small poverty-stricken village in India, and a twist of fate blew my world apart.
We lived an existence where school and education were out of our reach. One fateful day, my brother took me on a trip to a neighboring village, a two-hour journey by train. By the time we arrived I was tired so my brother set me on a bench to rest. Hours later I woke up alone, and in my groggy state I ended up on another train searching for my brother.
I fell asleep, and woke up thousands of miles from home on a ghost train barreling toward Calcutta. No one I encountered spoke Hindi, my native language, and I was lost, forced to fend for myself and live on the streets of Calcutta for weeks.
The streets of India are not safe for children, and every year, thousands are forced to live on the streets, avoiding being kidnapped or worse. My fate seemed decided, but luckily I was taken to an orphanage. However, attempts to find my family were futile.
Luckier still, I was ultimately adopted by an Australian couple, John and Sue Brierley, and taken to live in Tasmania. My life became fairly normal; I was raised in a safe and loving environment and assimilated into Australian culture. It was my identity. But pieces of my former life followed me.
Without technology … I would have still been lost.
I would have flashbacks that would trigger memories of my family in India, particularly of my brother Guddu. I knew that they thought of me as well, and were likely in a great deal of pain from not knowing where I was, who I was with, or even if I was still alive.
My decision to search for my home and family in India was a difficult one. It came with a great deal of guilt. I loved my family and I didnt want them to think I was ungrateful for the wonderful life they gave me. The person I am today is because of my mother and father, but my previous life was calling me, and it was a decision I made for myself.
Thats where Google Earth entered the picture.
Now, my goal here is not to be a walking advertisement for Google Earth, but I would be remiss if I didnt acknowledge the monumental impact that technology had on my life. Without technology, I would have still been enormously fortunate, happily living my life surrounded by one family that loved me unconditionally and whom I loved the same.
But the reality is, I would have still been lost.
Technology is the only way I was able to find that missing piece of my identity, the piece that was gnawing at my core being for 25 years. Its easy to blame technology for what we perceive to be a vast disconnect between people. Were so wrapped up in social media, texting, online dating, in many ways were addicted to our devices.
But by the same token, it is an incredible tool that can keep us become more connected than ever before. I spent nearly three years of my life searching for the train station where I last saw Guddu.
I was armed with very little information I knew the station was about 1,500 kilometers away from Calcutta (I calculated it based on the train speeds at the time and the number of days I had been on it), but I did not know in which direction; and I knew that there was a water tower near the station, and a dam not too far away.
I spent entire nights scrolling through Google Earth, trying to find some semblance of my previous life. It became an obsession. It was a gaping hole in my life, one that I wanted so badly to fill.
My quest to find my first family would never have been actualized without technology. The functional uses of machines and innovative computer programs is not to isolate us, but rather, to promote coexistence. If used properly, it brings us together, granting unimaginable opportunities, magnifying the most quintessential and exclusively human capabilities.
Technology highlights human emotions by standing in such contradiction to feelings of love, belonging, and interpersonal connection, while simultaneously promoting our ability to expand on those, connecting in ways beyond belief, reconnecting to those we thought were lost from our lives forever.
Having relived the first five years of my life in my dreams for years, I could recognize the pixilated images of my original home town immediately. When I did finally return to my village and found my birth mother in the same home from which I disappeared all those years ago, the feeling of hugging her again was utterly indescribable. I was filled with the overwhelming sense of completion. I knew who I was in a way I never had before and I would hold on to that for the rest of my life.
I can genuinely say I am lucky. I may have faced my share of obstacles over the course of my life, but technology, coupled with the support of my parents, helped me achieve the impossible. I now have two families, two motherly pillars who hold me up, giving me endless love and support.
I cannot express how grateful I am to both of my mothers for everything they have given me in this life, and as their son I will do my absolute best to make sure they know.